Category Archives: Success Stories

RIT/NTID Student Entrepreneurs, Hz Innovations, Are Part of RIT’s Saunders Summer Startup Program

Photo by: Keith Delk

Imagine secure software for cybercrime prevention, equipment with real-time feedback for weightlifters, a sound-recognition device for homeowners with hearing loss, or portable technology that brews Brazilian coffee and hot beverages on the go.

These are some of the jumpstart ventures at Saunders Summer Startup, a small-business launchpad at Rochester Institute of Technology where young innovators with bright ideas form interdisciplinary teams to start real companies. The 10-week crash course is sponsored by Saunders College of Business and the Albert J. Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

During the summer program, each of the eight startups below is offered a stipend, working space at the Simone Center, and receives support from RIT faculty, assigned mentors and community business leaders.

  • CASCADES: Acronym for Cyber Attack Scenario and Network Defense Simulator that streamlines the process of preventing cybercrime
  • Happy2c: A program to help people learn a new language from teachers and native speakers at a lower cost and at their own pace using a smartphone, tablet or computer
  • Hz Innovations: A sound recognition system to aid those with hearing loss that notifies the owner of a sound (doorbell, a child’s cry, alarm) through their software application on their smartphone, wearable device or laptop
  • LiftForce: Smart fitness sensor technology for gyms to provide weightlifters with real-time feedback that they can track, store and communicate to other lifters
  • A simplified tool for businesses to create and manage their social media content across multiple social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • SpynAlign: A postural control device for stroke patient rehabilitation that works by placing a smartphone on a specially designed vest worn by the patient that signals and alerts them when they need to align and correct their posture
  • UNA: A sustainable, smart and portable coffee maker that will allow users to brew their own coffee or tea on-the-go without any external power supply—complete with a coffee pod that delivers high quality Brazilian coffee beans
  • Wyvrn: The next generation of PawPrints, RIT’s website platform for students to create petitions for change; the education technology company is expanding their services to campuses across the U.S. to revolutionize the way student governments are run.

“Summer Startup is the most intensive entrepreneurial experience that we offer at RIT,” said Richard DeMartino, endowed chair and director of the Simone Center. “It’s both educational and developmental, and some of these businesses will actually become high growth businesses. In the past, we’ve had a couple that have raised a half million and a million dollars, and more.”

RIT/NTID Student, STEM Student Researcher Takes Top Prize at National Conference

Annette Tavernese, a Master of Science in Secondary Education student from Brick, New Jersey, took home the top prize at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM, in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. Her presentation about the challenges faced by deaf and hard-of-hearing students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields earned her top points in the science and math education graduate student category.

In her presentation and throughout her supporting research, Tavernese cited social isolation as a main concern of these students, but provided ways that the challenges could be overcome.

“The Deaf STEM Community Alliance is addressing social isolation by creating a model virtual (online) academic community for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in science, technology, engineering and math majors, their faculty, mentors and staff,” explained Tavernese.

Tavernese’s research—which includes identifying the ideal time of day for STEM students’ online social interaction and which STEM topics generate the most interaction—is being conducted through a collaborative effort between RIT and other universities, including Camden County College and Cornell University, as well as with deaf and hard-of-hearing STEM professionals across the United States. The research project is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“Annette understands how important it is for students who are deaf or hard of hearing to understand science, technology, engineering and math concepts and to share that knowledge with others,” said Lisa Elliot, senior research scientist, principal investigator for the Deaf STEM Community Alliance and an NTID faculty member. “I was so proud to see her bring her enthusiasm about our project at the national conference, and I know that other attendees learned a great deal from her presentation.”

The conference was co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

RIT/NTID Student Ready to Face the Future


Mason Chronister carefully files away colorful memories of people he has met, places he has traveled, unforgettable experiences he’s had. As he faces his bright future, Chronister is anticipating making memories in a new way as he copes with the gradual loss of his vision.

Chronister, who will soon earn his associate in applied science degree in administrative support technology from RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic condition resulting in a combination of hearing loss and slow-developing visual impairment that causes night blindness, loss of peripheral vision, and ultimately, complete vision loss. About four people in every 100,000 are diagnosed with the incurable condition.

“I was born deaf to hearing parents and attended mainstream schools,” said Chronister, from Red Lion, Pa. “I didn’t start noticing the effects of Usher Syndrome until I was about 14 years old. As time has gone on, it’s gotten worse. Today, I’m not able to see at night and my peripheral vision is so limited that I can’t see objects in my walking path. Sometimes I look clumsy because my balance has been affected. But despite all of my challenges, I’ve always known that I can accomplish anything—including realizing my dream of one day working for the government.”

In many ways, Chronister is not unlike so many other successful RIT graduates. He currently carries a 3.34 GPA and is a certified Microsoft specialist in Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint, and he plans to enter the workforce just weeks after crossing the commencement stage. At the end of May, he will use his skills as an administrative professional with the Defense Logistics Agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense located about an hour away from his home in Pennsylvania. In fact, this is Chronister’s second “tour of duty” with the agency. A successful co-op assignment last year helped secure permanent employment.

“I’ve always been fascinated by government—how it operates and how it impacts people’s lives,” he said. “Although I’m deaf and have limited vision, I’m able to work with my supervisor and co-workers to expertly execute my job, which includes documenting sensitive military information.”

Further filling his mental “memory book,” Chronister was the first RIT student with Usher Syndrome to study abroad in Italy, taking in the sights of Rome, Florence, Vatican City and Siena. He has also traveled extensively throughout the United States, visiting one of his favorite spots, San Francisco, where he actually hugged a part of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Yes, I hugged it,” he laughed. “And I hugged a column in the Roman Colosseum, too. When I see something famous, it’s what I do. It’s like it helps me commit it to memory and it literally helps put me in touch with these fascinating objects.”

Back at NTID, Chronister has performed small roles in theatrical productions including Damn Yankees! and Hairspray.

“It’s challenging for me to participate in theater because of the dramatic lighting and the many stage props in my path,” he said. “It’s a true team effort—from our director to the other deaf and hearing actors and interpreters—to be sure that everything comes together and works out for me. I saw another student with Usher Syndrome participate in the theater, and that really inspired me. And my participation seems to have inspired others to join in,” he said.

Those who know Chronister well say that he is destined to live a great life.

“Mason is awesomely intriguing,” said Jonathan Holmes, his employment adviser at NTID. “He is unafraid to step into vulnerability and embrace his own authenticity. Being around him is truly a breath of fresh air and inspires me to be better in my work and in life. He brings light to everyone that he comes into contact with and has a very keen understanding of life. Mason is one of the few individuals I have ever encountered that has found the secret of living an honest and fulfilling life at such a young age.”

“No one knows what the future holds,” Chronister adds. “Every day they are making strides in the medical field and I continue to keep my strong faith. With the support of my family and friends, I refuse to let my loss of vision and hearing prevent me from doing everything I want to do. I refuse to set up barriers for my own success.”