Dr. Eleanor Rosenfield, Associate Dean for Student and Academic Services at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, died Sunday afternoon (March 7, 2010) in her Brighton home after a two-year battle with lymphoma. She was 57.
"Ellie was one of those rare people who comes along in life and makes a profound positive impact upon those she touches," said NTID Interim President James DeCaro. "She was a truly competent, wonderful, kind, delightful and determined human being."
A native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Dr. Rosenfield graduated from The Ohio State University. She received a master's degree in student development from Indiana University and her doctorate in education from the University of Rochester.
She came to NTID in the early 1970s and held a variety of positions focusing on students, including Residence Life and Academic Affairs. She first worked at RIT as a residence director and was assigned to a dormitory that had a large number of deaf and hard-of-hearing students. As a hearing person, she knew no sign language at the time, but quickly learned. Eventually she signed so well, she became a member of NTID's Sign Language Proficiency Interview rating team.
In 2001, Dr. Rosenfield was given the Award of Excellence by the Deaf Professional Group at NTID. The award recognizes dedication, persistence and commitment to improving the quality of life for all deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
If students struggled in school - either academically or socially - they often met with Dr. Rosenfield ,who talked with them about their futures and consequences of hard work, or lack of hard work. If there was an educational opportunity for students, she found scholarships or grants to enable them to attend conferences they otherwise would not be able to attend.
"She was a great ambassador for the students," said Katie Schmitz, interim chairperson for Liberal Studies at NTID. "She was able to help the students find their own solutions and make sure students understood what the faculty and administrative position was."
Schmitz described Dr. Rosenfield as an energetic advocate and mentor for students who are deaf and hard of hearing and someone who was very supportive of her deaf colleagues.
"Ellie lived, breathed and slept student life," said Patti Durr, an associate professor in Cultural and Creative Studies at NTID. "Her door was always open to all, and she made sure all communication in our department area hallways and shared office areas were always open to all by having a 'we sign here' philosophy. For her, it was a no-brainer. She was a respected teacher, colleague, friend and all-around good soul."
Durr said Dr. Rosenfield's stewardship made lasting impressions on students. Many went on to become student leaders, paraprofessionals and faculty or staff. "She had a strong belief in the great untapped potential of what Deaf folks can do," Durr says.
When Dr. Rosenfield first was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2008, she talked publicly about her illness and blogged about her treatment and progress. She "kicked it to the curb" once, but experienced a relapse last fall.
Erin Esposito, a graduate of RIT/NTID and president of the NTID Alumni Association, called Dr. Rosenfield "a dear friend, trusted confidante and extraordinary mentor to me these past 18 years."
"She helped me in countless ways, but I'd have to say what weighed the most was her never-ending belief in me and my potential," said Esposito, who recently began a job as executive director of Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims in Rochester. The last time she saw her, Dr. Rosenfield greeted Esposito with "that million-dollar grin of hers and signed 'congratulations!' I ran up to her and gave her a big hug and she told me how proud she was of me. That was Ellie in her essence - always thinking of others."
Greg Pollock, president of the NTID Student Congress, said "Ellie truly had an indelible way of impacting people's lives, but we have not lost her. I have no doubt that those who had the honor of knowing her will continue to find comfort in knowing that our lives have been imprinted by her footstep. ... Her memory has become our treasure."
During the 2009 academic year, Dr. Rosenfield was nominated for the Isaac L. Jordan Sr./Staff Pluralism Award at RIT. On her nomination form was written: "Ellie is someone who is committed to the deaf community, advocating for them, fighting for them. I think almost every student at NTID knows who she is, what she does, and what a wonderful and helpful person she is."
Dr. Rosenfield served on the board of Hillel of Rochester Area Colleges. Schmitz said she was a phenomenal cook who enjoyed reading, traveling, attending cultural events at GeVa Theatre, the Memorial Art Gallery and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concerts. She also enjoyed walking and adored schnauzers.
The Executive Committee of the RIT Board of Trustees, in February 2010, created a special endowment in her name to assist RIT students who are deaf with financial needs. Dr. Rosenfield also established the NTID Student Leadership Endowed Fund, a scholarship to encourage deaf and hard-and-hearing students to become more involved in co-curricular activities sponsored by NTID's Student Life Team.
-Written by Greg Livadas