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NTID-supported delegates offer wisdom to fellow graduates

21 May

Left, a dark-skinned female in glasses, grad cap, gown and cord; right a light-skinned female in cap gown and cords.

Among the 23 commencement delegates at Rochester Institute of Technology’s commencement ceremonies May 11 and 12 were two deaf students who shared their own stories of overcoming obstacles and imparted advice to their fellow graduates.

Paula MacDonald, the undergraduate delegate for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf from Cumberland, Ontario, Canada, graduated with an associate degree in computer aided drafting technology.

She completed a co-op with Fulcrum Engineering, where she prepared drawings and specifications for structural engineering projects. At RIT/NTID, she served as president of the Deaf International Student Association and was active with the Deaf Basketball Association and the Deaf Volleyball Association. MacDonald will be transferring to the bachelor’s degree program in civil engineering technology at RIT and plans to become a civil/structural engineer.

In her presentation, MacDonald encouraged her fellow graduates to follow their passions, be an inspiration to themselves and others and to become leaders in their families, communities and beyond.

“It’s such a wonderful honor to stand here and give my speech, to represent you all, as a deaf aboriginal woman in engineering,” she said.

Joan “Jo” Bempong, the undergraduate delegate for the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, is from Irving, Texas. She earned combined bachelor’s/master’s degrees in computer engineering with a minor in Deaf cultural studies.

She completed co-ops at Texas Instruments, Sandia National Laboratories, and VTCSecure. Bempong was a recipient of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, the Outstanding Undergraduate Scholarship Award, the Deep Learning Classification Challenge Award and the Machine Intelligence Best Project Presentation Award. She was a finalist in both the Digital Rochester GREAT Award for student achievement and the RIT Tiger Tank competition. She was invited to present her work at the 25th Anniversary Congress on Women’s Health, and has accepted a full-time position at Texas Instruments.

Bempong used her own story of refusing to accept limitations because of her deafness and advised fellow graduates to, “Be extraordinary! Be rebellious. Be different. Take a stab at something you believe in and go for it. Do not be afraid to fail. When you do fail, fail hard and fail fast. Learn from your mistakes and keep on learning. And remember to ask for help when you need it.”

RIT/NTID students among RIT’s 2018 Legacy Leaders

21 May

Group of female students, each holding a blue folder.

Three RIT/NTID graduating seniors were recognized as part of the Legacy Leadership program of RIT’s Center for Women and Gender and the Center for Leadership & Civic Engagement. They are:

Brianna Conrad, an American Sign Language-English Interpretation major from Frederick, Maryland

Kaitlyn Shirey, an American Sign Language-English Interpretation major from Ambler, Pennsylvania

Britta Schwall, a business management major from Pflugerville, Texas

The Legacy Leadership program recognizes the achievements and leadership of RIT graduating women students. Students are self-nominated and must obtain two letters of support from the RIT or outside community detailing their civic responsibility and leadership. 

The selected Legacy Leaders attended the 2018 Women’s Career Achievement Dinner held on April 30, 2018, in the Gordon Field House as guests of the Center for Women and Gender and Center for Leadership & Civic Engagement.

RIT/NTID honors graduates at Academic Awards and Commencement Ceremonies

12 May

President Buckley and Gary Behm with nine student award recipients, all female.

Several students at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf were honored with their families and friends at an academic awards ceremony May 11. NTID President and RIT Vice President and Dean Gerry Buckley and Interim Associate Vice President for NTID Academic Affairs Gary Behm hosted the ceremony.

Academic Achievement Awards were presented in recognition of high academic achievement to the following RIT/NTID associate, baccalaureate and master’s graduates:

  • Jimmy Wong, applied computer technology major from Chicago, Illinois, received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning an associate degree.
  • Radhika Mehra, fine arts major from Rochester, New York, received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning a bachelor’s degree.
  • Kailey Martin, a visual arts-all grades major from Londonderry, New Hampshire, received the Academic Achievement Award for students earning a master’s degree.

Outstanding Graduate Awards are presented to one associate, one bachelor’s and one master’s degree graduate, each of whom has achieved a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0, demonstrated appropriate personal and social maturity, and provided service to the RIT community. They are:

  • Sabrina Serna, a laboratory science technology major from Lake View Terrace, California, received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning an associate degree.
  • Emmanuel Perrodin-Njoku, a biomedical sciences major from Washington, D.C., received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning a bachelor’s degree.
  • Megan Freeman, a management & information systems major from Missoula, Montana, received the Outstanding Graduate Award for students earning a master’s degree.

Additional honors awarded at the ceremony include:

  • ASLIE Outstanding Graduate Award to Eva-Alaine Thibault, an American Sign Language-English Interpretation major from Rochester, New York. 
  • NTID Undergraduate College Delegate, Paula MacDonald, a computer aided drafting technology major from Cumberland, Ontario, Canada.
  • Outstanding Undergraduate Scholars:
    • Heather Barczynski, ASL-English Interpretation major from Wexford, Pennsylvania
    • Brianna Conrad, ASL-English Interpretation major from Waterloo, New York
    • Erin Ireland, ASL-English Interpretation major from Walworth, New York
    • Elizabeth Odom, ASL-English Interpretation major from Louisville, Kentucky
    • Isabel Snyder, ASL-English Interpretation major from Newton Highlands, Massachusetts
    • Kalyna Sytch, ASL-English Interpretation major from Rochester, New York

RIT/NTID’s graduating class this year includes 319 graduates: 100 associate degrees, 32 bachelor’s degrees in American Sign Language-English Interpretation, three master’s degrees in health care interpreting and 12 master’s degrees from the program in secondary education of students who are deaf or hard of hearing. There are 176 NTID-supported graduates in RIT’s eight other colleges.

Buckley honored the graduates’ accomplishments and encouraged them to go into the world with the same determination they showed in their time at the college.

“To Class of 2018, America believes in you and has invested in NTID,” he said. “Go show the nation your NTID spirit and Tiger Pride. Congratulations!”

 

Twin sisters graduate from RIT/NTID, follow different paths

11 May

Two dark-skinned females with glasses wearing graduation caps and gowns, one has an orange master's hood, medallion, gold cords.

Born and raised in Irving Texas, twin sisters Joan “Jo” and Jane Bempong attended mainstream schools together from elementary through high school, and then decided to continue learning together in college when they were both accepted at Rochester Institute of Technology, supported by the university’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

At RIT they were able to live together, but follow different educational and career paths.

“I was always fascinated by technology,” Jo said. “Back in the day, MySpace piqued my interest in coding, so Computer Engineering seemed to be a good fit for me.”

But Jane had other interests. “I was always the person who people would come to for either advice or emotional support,” she said. “I always enjoyed being there for people ever since a young age, which is why majoring in psychology made sense for me.”

They plan to follow their different career interests after graduation, with Jo having accepted a full-time position at Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas, as a software engineer, and Jane either applying to graduate school or getting more work experience in the psychology/mental health field.

As they reflect on their time at RIT/NTID, Jo considers it the place where she grew as an individual.

“I came out of my comfort zone and became an entrepreneur, a researcher, and a leader aside from being an engineer,” she said.

And for Jane, “RIT helped confirm my career choice and increased my passion for the mental health field.”

RIT/NTID student Maya Penn to fulfill personal longing for service with Peace Corps mission

30 Apr

Dark skinned female with dark braided hair wearing a multi-color scarf and purple long-sleeved top.

Growing up in foster care, Maya Penn was surrounded by people who understood the value of sharing and caring for others. Just one month after Penn graduates with her bachelor’s degree in psychology from RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, she will fulfill her own personal quest for serving others with the Peace Corps in Africa.

Penn, who is deaf, is eagerly anticipating her two-year assignment— teaching deaf children in Ghana.  

“This will be a time of significant personal growth for me,” said Penn, who hails from the Bay Area in California. “And I’m just looking forward to impacting the lives of so many children, where there is such a need.”

Although Penn admits that she didn’t know much about the Peace Corps before applying, she knew that she wanted to travel and was hooked when she discovered that there were positions for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to work in schools for those who are deaf. After videophone conversations with Peace Corps volunteers and administrators, Penn applied, interviewed and was accepted into the program.

Penn says that this experience is a “big step” for her, and she is eager to learn as much as she can about different cultures. And even though she’s a bit nervous, she believes her related experiences as a teaching assistant in a school for deaf children, her work at summer camps and at RIT’s Margaret’s House child care center, and her experience tutoring American Sign Language will also contribute to her success in Africa.

And she’s no stranger to traveling in not-so-perfect conditions, having backpacked extensively through Central America and Jamaica.

“I believe that it’s so important for people to study or travel abroad,” said Penn. “It’s crucial to learn from and meet people from other cultures. There are so many opportunities that grow out of these experiences. Of course, you learn and grow in an academic environment, but what you can learn outside of the classroom is beneficial, too.”

At RIT/NTID, Penn was vice president of NTID’s Ebony Club, worked with the NTID Student Life team, was a community student advocate and was involved in theater. She also played intramural volleyball and basketball.

“I’ve loved so much about the RIT/NTID community, including the students, my mentors and all of the events and opportunities,” she said.

Sarah Sarchet, a lecturer at RIT/NTID, met Penn in 2016 when Penn was accepted into RIT’s WOCHA (Women of Color, Honor and Ambition) program.

“Maya is natural leader and a true empath,” said Sarchet. “We ‘clicked’ as a mentor/mentee pair because of how well Maya can relate to others. We both come from large families with many siblings as well as mixed-race families. We had many shared experiences, and our conversations flowed naturally, despite the fact that we had only known each other briefly. And she has been truly bitten by the travel bug. This makes her skilled at meeting new people and learning new cultures. She is unafraid of leaving her comfort zone to try new adventures.”

Of course, Penn says she will miss her parents, who are both RIT/NTID alumni.

“My mom is worried, of course, but she made sure that it’s safe and that I’m in good hands. She’s just so happy that I have the opportunity to do something like this with my life.”

After her work with the Peace Corps, Penn is thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in social work, driven by her time in the foster care system. But she also likes to keep her options open.

“You just never know what’s going to happen after two years in Africa.”