RIT/NTID Research Team Earns $500,000 Grant to Study Communicative Interaction Between Deaf, Hearing STEM Students

four students at a table working on a project together with papers and ipads in front of them

Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology are using an National Science Foundation grant valued at nearly $500,000 to study the challenges of how STEM students from diverse backgrounds—specifically hearing, deaf and hard-of-hearing students—effectively communicate with each other and understand common subject material.

The grant, which will be distributed over three years, will help researchers investigate strategies for mixed teams of students to more effectively communicate and solve complex problems. RIT is a unique environment with hearing students and 1,400 deaf and hard-of-hearing students at its National Technical Institute for the Deaf learning together on one campus.

RIT/NTID professor Michael Stinson said the university is the perfect place to put their research into action as mixed teams of deaf, hearing and hard-of-hearing students often struggle to communicate with each other in critical STEM learning activities.

“Access services, such as sign-language interpreting, real-time captioning and note takers for deaf students have been designed for traditional lecture courses,” explained Stinson, co-inventor of the C-Print real-time captioning service that is used at RIT and leader of C-Print research. “But, this model is often inadequate in team learning situations. At this time, little is known about what happens in these mixed team situations and what communication approaches will work in them. This research will explore ways to facilitate communication in these team situations that are being used more and more.”
The study includes teams of four students—two deaf/hard of hearing and two hearing students—who will each receive unique information that must be shared and understood in order to solve a problem. The initial problem involves using statistics to describe and make predictions about tornado occurrence, intensity and destruction. According to Stinson, statistics are used in many STEM fields and he believes that studying tornadoes will encourage student engagement. Additional topics will also be explored. His hope is that the development of effective communication strategies and knowledge-sharing tools will help future students engage in problem solving in mixed groups.

Stinson is working alongside co-principle investigators Lisa Elliot, senior research scientist in NTID’s Center on Access Technology, Carol Marchetti, professor of statistics, RIT College of Science, and Joan Rentsch, professor of communication studies and director of the Organizational Research Laboratory, University of Tennessee.

“Once students graduate, they will also face similar situations in the workplace,” added Stinson. “That’s why it’s even more important to understand and work through these communication issues earlier, rather than later.”

RIT/NTID Professor Named White House ‘Champions of Change’ Honoree

close up photo of Talila Lewis wearing a bright blue shirt with hands folded and elbows on table

Talila A. Lewis, a faculty member in liberal studies at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, was one of nine disability advocates from across the United States selected as “Champions of Change” by the White House. A recognition event—which coincides with the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act—was held in Washington, D.C., earlier this summer.

Lewis, an activist and attorney whose research primarily focuses on creating equal access to the legal system for individuals who are deaf and for people with disabilities, created the only national database of deaf prisoners and is one of the only people in the world working on deaf wrongful conviction cases. Lewis advocates with and for hundreds of deaf defendants, prisoners and returned citizens and trains justice, legal and corrections professionals about various disability related concerns. In addition, Lewis has been the force behind social justice campaigns including #DeafInPrison, Deaf Prisoner Phone Justice, and the American Civil Liberties Union’s “Know Your Deaf Rights” campaign. Lewis is also the founder and director of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf, or HEARD, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that works to correct and prevent wrongful convictions of deaf people, end abuse of incarcerated people with disabilities, decrease recidivism rates for deaf returned citizens, and increase representation of the deaf in the justice, legal and corrections professions.

“I am so very humbled to be counted among disability justice advocates who are pushing us all to challenge the status quo,” said Lewis. “Endless gratitude to those who have supported this community-led effort and to those I serve who remind me daily, the power of community accountability, resilience and love-infused activism.”

According to the website, the Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, go to www.whitehouse.gov/champions.

RIT ranked among ‘Most Innovative Schools’ by ‘U.S. News & World Report’

researcher in green protective gear works on project using robotic hands

Rochester Institute of Technology is among the “Most Innovative Schools” in a new survey of college leaders in the 2016 edition of U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges.

For the first time in the 33-year history of U.S. News rankings, college presidents, provosts and admissions deans were asked to nominate up to 10 colleges or universities in their ranking category that are making the most innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities. RIT ranked No. 2 for the most innovative school among regional universities in the north.

For the overall 2016 ranking, RIT placed seventh in the “Best Regional Universities (North)” category in the latest report among hundreds of schools that offer a full range of undergraduate majors and master’s programs. RIT also received the second highest peer assessment score, which is a survey of presidents, provosts and deans from other universities judging a school’s academic excellence.

In the “Great Schools, Great Prices” category, RIT ranked fourth among regional universities (North). The formula used to determine which schools offer the best value relates to a school’s academic quality to the net cost of attendance for a student who receives the average level of financial aid. “The higher the quality of program and the lower the cost, the better the deal,” according to U.S. News.

RIT was also cited as an “A+ school for B students,” recognizing that RIT has a long history of admitting well-qualified students who may not be at the very top of their class and providing a value-added education through its innovative, specialized academic programs and strong emphasis on experiential education.

In further rankings:

  • RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering ranked No. 63 for undergraduate engineering programs among universities where the highest degree is a doctorate.
  • RIT’s Saunders College of Business was ranked No. 93 nationally among best programs for undergraduate business education.
  • RIT ranked No. 6 among regional universities in the north for “Best Colleges for Veterans.” Here, U.S. News aims to provide military veterans and active duty service members with data on which top-ranked schools offer benefits that can help make a college education affordable.

RIT President Bill Destler said the rankings continue to validate RIT’s reputation as a leading regional, national and international university.

“RIT is on the cusp of greatness and a university today where our students can flourish in an environment rich with innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit,” Destler said. “We are extremely pleased to be cited as a leading university for innovation in the new ranking. Across the university, every measurable indicator is up, and our alumni are increasingly making us proud all over the world. RIT is an internationally significant career-focused university with its own unique character and programs.”

In the “Focus on Student Success” category, last surveyed in 2014, RIT remains listed as one of only 13 colleges nationally recognized for excellence in the “Internships” listing. RIT’s cooperative education program, which began in 1912, remains one of the largest in the nation and has been recognized every year since U.S. News began the category in 2002.

RIT has consistently been listed among the top regional universities since U.S. News began ranking colleges in 1983. RIT leaders anticipate moving to the “national university” category next year due to the university’s sustained growth in doctoral programs. The Carnegie Foundation, used by U.S. News & World Report to classify universitieswill be reviewing RIT’s classification. National research classification is based on the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded and RIT had a record 42 graduates earn their doctorates this past spring. RIT has seven doctoral programs: astrophysics, color science, computing and information sciences, engineering, microsystems engineering, imaging science and sustainability. Several other Ph.D. programs are in the planning stages as RIT begins to implement its 2025 Strategic Plan, “Greatness Through Difference”: https://www.rit.edu/president/strategicplan2025/