Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf inducted 26 new members into the Delta Xi chapter of the Epsilon Pi Tau honor society at a ceremony May 1.
Epsilon Pi Tau recognizes the academic excellence of students in fields devoted to the study of technology and the preparation of practitioners for the technology professions. Epsilon Pi Tau also extends the honor of membership to outstanding practitioners in the technology professions, to scholars, and/or to persons who have significantly supported or advanced technology professions.
With support from DeafTEC, an NSF-sponsored center at RIT/NTID providing resources for high schools and community colleges that educate deaf and hard-of-hearing students in STEM-related programs, the Delta Xi chapter of the honor society was established at RIT in 2015 for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in associate-level NTID technology programs. This chapter is the only chapter of Epsilon Pi Tau specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and the first NTID honor society.
“It is one of the highlights of the academic year to welcome our talented, hard-working students into the EPT honor society,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “It is a validation of their hours of studying and academic endeavors in and out of the classroom. They make their families and RIT/NTID proud.”
Student honorees include:
- Miko A. Arayata of Quezon City, Philippines; arts and imaging studies
- Megan L. Armstrong of Webster, New York; laboratory science technology
- Cassandra Banania of Chino Hills, California; arts and imaging studies
- Courtney S. Boyer of Decatur, Georgia; computer-aided drafting technology
- Taher A Chowdhury of Ozone Park, New York; accounting technology
- Gabriella L. Ertle of Aliso Viejo, California; management information systems
- Demeisha A. Heath of Brooklyn, New York; business technology
- Macee R. Helmick of West Henrietta, New York; business technology
- Phillip Ho of San Jose, California; computer-aided drafting technology
- Israelle S. Johnson of Baltimore, Ohio; laboratory science technology
- Otto Kingstedt of Washington, D.C. and Stockholm, Sweden; arts and imaging sciences
- Abbigail J. Kolar of Kearney, Nebraska; business
- Ping Liu of Harbin, China; applied computer technology
- Dulce Mireles of Enigma, Georgia; arts and imaging sciences
- Aaron Parker of Lakewood, Ohio; mobile application development
- Philip Pham of San Jose, California; 3D graphics technology
- Victoria Pon of Queens, New York; arts and imaging studies
- Mark L. Redekas of Manchester, Connecticut; applied computer technology
- Kathryn Richer of North Syracuse, New York, computer-aided drafting technology
- Sabrina L. Serna of Lake View Terrace, California; laboratory science technology
- Signe Tarmey of Charlestown, New Hampshire; laboratory science technology
- Michael Wentland of Lynnwood, Washington; applied mechanical technology
- Mia C. White of Littleton, Colorado; business accounting
Faculty honorees include:
- Mitchell R. Bacot, instructional/support faculty, NTID Science and Mathematics Department
- Edward Mineck, interim chairperson, NTID Visual Communication Studies Department
- Mark J. Pfuntner, chairperson, NTID Business Studies Department
Eric Kunsman, a lecturer for the Visual Communications Studies Department in RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf and an adjunct professor for the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences (CIAS), is the fifth recipient of the Edline M. Chun Award for Outstanding Teaching and Service.
Named in honor of the late RIT adjunct professor Edline Chun, the award has been given annually since 2014 to a CIAS adjunct faculty member who exemplifies excellence and dedication in teaching and who has given outstanding service to a CIAS-affiliated school and to the college.
“This award means a lot to me since I knew and admired Edline, and I know what it represents,” said Kunsman, who also owns Booksmart Studio, a fine art digital printing studio in Rochester, N.Y., specializing in innovative techniques and services for photographers and book artists. “Owning my own business, I know the importance of staying relevant and passionate in the industry, and I try to bring that excitement to the classroom.”
Before coming to RIT in 2000, Kunsman, a native of Bethlehem, Pa., was an assistant professor at Mercer County Community College, where he also served as the coordinator of the photography program. He has led national workshops on photography and digital printing. He holds an MFA in book arts/printmaking from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and an MS in electronic publishing/graphic arts media, a BS in biomedical photography and BFA in fine art photography, all from RIT.
In addition, Kunsman’s photographs and books have been exhibited internationally and can be seen on display in several prominent collections throughout the United States.
“Eric is a dedicated and passionate member of the SPAS team who exemplifies all of the qualities of an outstanding faculty member,” said Therese Mulligan, administrative chair of SPAS. “Whether he’s teaching students or playing a key role in SPAS initiatives such as the signature RIT Big Shot, Eric brings real-world industry knowledge to the classroom combined with a sincere interest in helping students learn the material and succeed in their careers.”
Ms. Chun was a well-respected and beloved faculty member who taught in CIAS for nearly two decades. Her colleagues in RIT’s School of Media Sciences described her as someone who “always went above and beyond to serve the students and the school with passion, integrity and the utmost class.”
As part of Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, researchers at NTID’s Center on Access Technology will demonstrate an accessible rower that enables deaf and hard-of-hearing rowers to follow verbal coxswain instructions during competitions. Festival visitors can sit in a canoe and test their reflex response times by using a game pad to reply to visual cues displayed on a smartphone.
The idea for the accessible rower came about in 2016, with the addition of a deaf rower to the RIT men’s rowing team roster, with the possibility of other deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes joining the squad. In rowing competitions, rowers are required to follow commands from the coxswain, who determines the speed of the boat.
According to Wendy Dannels, a research faculty member in NTID’s Center on Access Technology and one of the project coordinators, the solution provides a visual display showing transcription and/or illustration of the coxswain’s commands. The application was developed to help the athletes synchronize with the coxswain by using a custom Automatic Speech Recognition engine. The engine is offline so the deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes can utilize the technology without internet connection.
In addition to Dannels, project team members are Steven McClusky, a fourth-year software engineering student from Blue Springs, Mo.; Joseph Stanislow, instructional/support faculty member, NTID Information and Computing Studies; and Brian Trager, associate director of the NTID Center on Access Technology.
For eight weeks this summer, Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will be home to the first all-deaf cohort of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), bringing deaf and hard-of-hearing students from across the country together to do research.
The cohort of three RIT/NTID students, and one student each from the University of California, Berkeley; Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida; Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.; Ohlone College in Freemont, California; Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio and Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon, includes six women and three men, all of whom are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
“Students were selected in a competitive process on the basis of who showed strong potential for research and fit in well with our current projects,” said Bonnie Jacob, assistant professor in the mathematical modeling program. “The projects are all from science and math, and include graph theory, astrophysics, biochemistry and analytical chemistry this year. There have been other REUs that invite one, two or a few deaf students each year, but we are the first REU to host a full cohort of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.”
A Research Experience for Undergraduates program generally runs in the summer for eight to 10 weeks. Undergraduate students come from different universities, along with some from the home university, to be immersed in a research experience with guidance from a faculty mentor.
This particular REU is a three-year award from the NSF, and will run for three summers, with the grant totaling $303,000. Students are paid a stipend, receive housing and some meal support and travel. They also have an opportunity to present their research at a conference. In addition to the research experience, RIT/NTID is adding writing coaching, a research boot camp that involves mathematical and scientific training and professional development sessions tailored specifically to students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. They also will have presentations by invited guests.
“REUs are exciting programs because faculty mentors and students work side-by-side on original research,” Jacob said. “The opportunity to simultaneously make scientific discoveries while watching the students transform themselves into researchers is awesome. A full-time research experience over the summer often is a critical part of an undergraduate student’s preparation to go to graduate school or enter a career in a scientific or mathematical field. We are very excited about our group of students this year: they come from all over the country, have a diverse set of backgrounds, and also have a variety of career goals. They will come together this summer with the common thread of being undergraduate students who are deaf or hard of hearing and are eager to do science and math research. Several students have told me that they’re excited about the program. I know I am!”
For more on the project, visit the RIT/NTID REU website: https://people.rit.edu/bcjntm/REU.html.
Joan Bempong, a fifth-year BS/MS computer engineering student from Irving, Texas, believes that deaf women who use American Sign Language exhibit disparities in health literacy when compared to hearing women. She says limited health literacy may be caused by inaccessibility of mainstream information and healthcare services, as well as family communication difficulties. As a result, ineffective dissemination of health information also may have a significant impact upon deaf women’s mental and physical health. She hopes that her research will help develop a comprehensive framework for understanding how such health disparities occur and what steps can be taken to improve quality of life.
Abraham Glasser, a third-year computer science student from Rochester, N.Y., and Emily Lederman, a second-year computer science student from Morgantown, W.V., are using mathematical equations to determine worst-case scenarios for monitoring electric power networks. They hope one day their research will save power companies and consumers a lot of money.
On April 13, Bempong, Glasser and Lederman joined 61 other deaf and hard-of-hearing student researchers at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s Student Research Fair in Rosica Hall. The event gives undergraduate and graduate students, in partnership with faculty mentors, the opportunity to present posters or give demonstrations on topics related to health science, communication studies, access technology and environmental research, among others.
Todd Pagano, associate dean for teaching and scholarship excellence and founding director of NTID’s Laboratory Science Technology program, is among the coordinators of the research fair. Pagano said the research fair is unique because of the training that is offered to students ahead of time on writing and editing abstracts, designing research posters and presenting research to audiences.
“The projects we’re seeing are very sophisticated and diverse with a good mix of high-level science, math, healthcare and access technology research,” said Pagano. “We send many of our students to professional conferences to present their work, but the pinnacle of the experience for students often is having their research published. And a lot of what is seen here at the research fair has already been published.”
Musab Al-Smadi, a fourth-year software engineering student from Jordan, also presented his research. He is working on an inclusive mobile app using Near Field Communication that will enable deaf and hard-of-hearing museumgoers to fully explore their surroundings without facing barriers having to do with obtaining information about exhibits. For example, according to Al-Smadi, many museums offer visitors paper transcripts with exhibit descriptions. However, using transcripts can be inconvenient for patrons with varying levels of vision ability, or frustrating for those for whom English is a second language. The new app can be used on Android and iOS platforms and includes a keypad where users can type in the ID number of the exhibit to get the information or use their devices to hover over QR codes.
“Being able to work with faculty on relevant research has been a very positive experience,” said Al-Smadi. “We’re taking concepts that we’ve learned in the classroom and developing them even further for applications like this.”
Heather Smith, director of the NTID Motion Lab and senior lecturer in the 3D graphics technology program, creates and applies innovative projects using motion-capture technologies for product development, research and scholarship. She is working with a team of students to use motion capture to build an interactive, visual storytelling app with 360-degree views, animation, bilingual literacy and gaming. The app, Deaf Pioneer, teaches history dating back to the late 1800s and allows users to fully immerse themselves in the story.
“I am very fortunate to be a faculty member who works closely with deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students on their research projects,” said Smith. “I feel honored being part of their research journey as I share my wealth of knowledge and fuel them to fly higher and discover what is in store for them in the future. I try to become their mentor and their ally."
Bempong emphasized the quality of her research experience. “It has been a phenomenal experience. Given that I am a computer engineering student graduating with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, this research was fascinating in that it was completely different from my field of study. Because of the mentorship of Professor Deirdre Schlehofer, I was able to gain qualitative research skills, as well as more awareness about my own community and recognize the need to improve health literacy among us.”
The Student Research Fair is funded by the NTID Office of the President and jointly sponsored by the Associate Dean for Teaching and Scholarship Excellence and the Associate Dean of Research.
Art lovers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing soon will have access to a deeper, richer museum experience, thanks to Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The college is launching a mobile app to be used in its Dyer Arts Center that provides content in various forms, including video in American Sign Language, transcripts and audio and visual descriptions. The app was developed by members of RIT/NTID’s Center on Access Technology in cooperation with Dyer personnel and deaf and hard-of-hearing students from two of RIT’s other colleges: the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing & Information Sciences and the College of Imaging Arts and Science.
Wendy Dannels, Center on Access Technology research faculty member, mentors several part-time and co-op student employees on this one of a kind accessibility project. “It is a joy witnessing students building good character and self-confidence navigating this new technology,” she said.
The app will describe works on exhibit in three locations on the RIT campus: the NTID President’s Hallway, Rosica Hall and the arts center itself. There is a map showing the locations for the various exhibits contained within the app.
Information on the various art pieces can be accessed three ways: through a numbered system near each art piece that can be entered manually into the app, by taking a photo of a QR code, or though NFC, or Near Field Communication, a short range wireless communication technology that allows two devices equipped with NFC technology to communicate with each other and share information as soon as they are close to one another.
Additionally, the app, powered by Museum Accessibility Intelligence, or MUSEAI™, contains an option that has been developed for use by those with vision issues, using a dark background, large font size, visual descriptor and audio description. Associate Director of the Center on Access Technology, Brian Trager, foresees a huge impact in end-users’ experiences using MUSEAI.
“MUSEAI is a unique platform for museum goers to enjoy and view additional content regarding an exhibit, artwork, historical facts and more,” Trager said. “What makes MUSEAI unique is that we designed accessibility to be the forefront of this technology to enable an enjoyable experience for everyone. MUSEAI serves as the cornerstone for accessibility, and the NTID Center on Access Technology aims to raise the bar higher for museums across the globe.”
After the unveiling, focus groups will provide feedback as perpetual testing continues to refine the app and its abilities.
“We’re very excited about testing and launching the Dyer Arts App,” said Dyer Arts Center director Tabitha Jacques. “It will be especially helpful during NTID’s 50th Anniversary Reunion, happening June 28-July 1, when more than 2,500 people will be on campus – many of whom have never seen the Dyer Arts Center.”
RIT/NTID is home to one of the largest permanent collections of works by Deaf and hard-of-hearing artists in the world.
Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (RIT/NTID) in Rochester, New York, has received a $2.6 million, five-year award from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) to study the neurological, linguistic and behavioral outcomes for deaf individuals after childhood. It is the first study of its kind with college-age adults.
According to the latest data from the NIDCD, two to three out of every 1,000 children born in the United States are deaf or hard of hearing. For some of these children, being deaf can preclude typical acquisition of spoken language.
Some children use hearing aids, some learn sign language only, spoken language only, or a combination of sign and spoken language, with or without hearing aids. Still others use a cochlear implant (CI), an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the inner ear and can provide sound signals to the brain. Children with a CI may use sign language, spoken language or both. As of 2012, around 38,000 children in the United States had received a CI.
“For many of these children, a cochlear implant has permitted access to spoken language,” said Matthew Dye, an RIT/NTID researcher who is leading the grant. “However, what is perhaps most striking about spoken language outcomes following cochlear implantation is the variability.”
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there is wide variation in individual outcomes following cochlear implantation, and some CI recipients never develop useable speech and oral language skills. The causes of this variation in outcomes are only partly understood at the present time.
“Understanding this variability is the first step in developing effective interventions to move a greater number of children towards better communication outcomes,” Dye said.
The research will be one of the first large-scale studies to examine spoken language outcomes in young deaf adults who received their implants in childhood and now are enrolled at RIT/NTID. The majority of these students will vary in terms of whether or not they use their CI, the age at which they received their CI and their primary mode of communication (spoken English, sign language, or other). The unique sample of young adults at RIT/NTID, many of whom learned sign language in infancy and use a cochlear implant, affords the possibility of examining how early exposure to American Sign Language (ASL) influences spoken language outcomes.
Dye will collaborate with researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder to establish norms for hearing college students.
“The overall aim of this project is to examine the effects of auditory development, cognitive function and multimodal language outcomes in a large group of young deaf adults,” Dye said. “The results of this study will provide much-needed and timely answers regarding the possible benefits of early cochlear implantation and early intervention with sign language that parents and policy makers seek as they determine how best to intervene with the next generation of deaf infants who are cochlear implant recipients or candidates.”
A nearly $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will help advance research, teaching experiences and career preparation in the biomedical and behavioral sciences fields for deaf and hard-of-hearing postdoctoral scholars.
A program, known as the Rochester Postdoc Partnership (RPP), serves as a national model that allows deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who have earned advanced degrees to create mentored teaching experiences and do postdoctoral research at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and University of Rochester.
“What sets this research postdoctoral experience apart from traditional postdoctoral research is the emphasis on teaching scholars ‘how to teach’ and design new courses at RIT/NTID in full-inclusion classroom settings for deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing undergraduates,” said Peter Hauser, director of the NTID Center on Cognition and Language and the Rochester Bridges to Doctorate Program. “People who are deaf, like myself, are underrepresented in life science disciplines and few are applying for biomedical or behavioral science research grants. This program is helping to rectify that circumstance.”
The program, which received five years of funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences through the Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award, is now in its second year.
Two postdoctoral scholars currently are participating in the program.
Sarah Latchney, Ph.D., from Victor, N.Y., earned her doctoral degree in molecular toxicology at University of Rochester Medical Center and has performed postdoctoral research in neuroscience at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Latchney is now at the Wilmot Cancer Institute at URMC performing postdoctoral research on the cellular and molecular mechanisms affecting bone marrow hematopoietic stem cell biology in normal and pathological conditions. Latchney said she joined the RPP to take advantage of the unique training focus to enhance her academic research portfolio with the added dimension of acquiring skills in teaching pedagogy, designing course curriculum and teaching new classes at RIT/NTID and URMC.
Wyatte Hall, Ph.D., from Albany, N.Y., earned his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Gallaudet University and performed one year of postdoctoral research in clinical psychology at University of Massachusetts. His research in the RPP program at URMC focuses on the lifelong consequences of language deprivation in deaf children and the developmental impact of early-language experiences on health literacy and outcomes in prenatal care and reproductive health of deaf females. Hall is starting his second year in the program and has gained teaching experience, research skills and training in grant writing to develop his future independent academic research and teaching program.
“It’s exciting to see the program taking off and impacting the careers of deaf and hard-of-hearing scholars, who are extremely underrepresented in science careers beyond a master’s degree,” said Gerard Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean.
Rochester has built a global reputation as a center for deaf and hard-of-hearing culture and education. In the last decade, collaborations between RIT, NTID, UR and the deaf community have led to a number of unique programs designed to support the growth of deaf and hard-of-hearing scientists.
The program is seeking additional deaf and hard-of-hearing postdoc scholars. For more information, go towww.urmc.rochester.edu/academic-research-careers-deaf-scholars/about-the-program.aspx.
Catherine Clark, associate professor, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology, was honored for her “Outstanding Dedication to Service” by Visions Global Empowerment during its annual awards ceremony in April.
Clark, who has worked at NTID for 30 years and is also an audiologist and cochlear implant specialist, was recognized for her volunteer work with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. During several visits to Ethiopia between 2014 and 2016, Clark administered hearing tests—the first for most in that area—and collaborated with a regional center that provides tutoring and preschool services to deaf children. In addition to hiring deaf teachers, the center established classes for deaf and hard-of-hearing learners; distributed sign-language dictionaries; taught Ethiopian Sign Language to deaf and hard-of-hearing children, adults, families, teachers, school administrators, university students and doctors; and developed a deaf entrepreneurship program. The staff invited Clark to establish an audiological assessment and intervention center to complement their educational efforts.
During a 2015 trip to the region, Clark consulted for a program that conducts community screenings, assessments and public education programs, and created a clinical audiology manual. She also helped with teaching parents about hearing-aid use and maintenance for their children. Since 2014, 111 individuals have received audiology services, 48 individuals have received hearing aids and 130 individuals have been examined by Ethiopian ear, nose and throat specialists. According to Clark, the Ethiopian deaf and hard-of-hearing community also served as audiology assistants.
“Many years ago, I mentioned to someone that one of my personal and professional goals was to open up a clinic for deaf and hard-of-hearing people of color,” said Clark. “Little did I know that I would end up doing this for the people in Ethiopia. Volunteering is a new piece of the puzzle for me, and the community in Bahir Dar is so appreciative of those who volunteer. It’s nice to go back every few months and bring a skill that I was trained to do in the form of audiology testing and directly impacting the deaf and hard-of-hearing community there. I really can’t wait to go back to Bahir Dar to see the kids and bond with the deaf adult community. There are similarities between American Sign Language and Ethiopian Sign Language. As a result, we have a language in which we can all understand each other.”
Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean, added: “I, along with the NTID community, admire Catherine for her dedication to improving the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Ethiopia, and we are all grateful for the amazing and impactful work that she does here on campus. We can all learn from her willingness to give of herself.”
Clark plans to return to Ethiopia this summer to continue her work.
Visions Global Empowerment is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to youth education and empowerment and changing patterns of inequality by supporting educational initiatives for youth affected by poverty, conflict and disability.