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Deaf RIT graduate defines strength in the face of adversity

15 May

Amie Sankoh in a long-sleeved light color top, jeans and ankle boots sits w/sculpture of a roaring tiger with trees behind her.

Amie Sankoh has overcome many obstacles in her life—and her walk across the stage during this weekend’s commencement ceremony for RIT’s College of Science will mark the beginning of a new chapter.

The biochemistry student, who is deaf and supported by the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, will begin studying in August for her Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. One day she hopes to use her expertise to conduct groundbreaking research on vaccine development and disease prevention.

As a young student in the west African country of Sierra Leone, Sankoh struggled due to her deafness and a lack of resources. Her parents, refusing to accept failure, made the bold decision to send their 12-year-old daughter to the United States where she would live with her father’s best friend and his family, attend better schools and ultimately gain more opportunities.

Sankoh’s breakthrough came in high school, where her love for mathematics and chemistry flourished. She also learned sign language, which enabled her to break down communication barriers with other deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

“Once I discovered my love for math, which was very visual, I knew that I could do anything with my life,” she said. “My mind was set on attending RIT/NTID because I knew that it was the right fit for me.”

Throughout her academic career, Sankoh participated in internships at top companies like Dow Chemical Co. in Pennsylvania and credits NTID faculty and staff for teaching her how to strengthen her communication skills, advocate for herself and develop her love for Deaf culture.

“My parents have always had very high expectations of their children, and they greatly value education,” she said. “NTID has given me the confidence to believe in myself and affirm that I can make it, especially in a tough science field. I’ve learned how to work with people who are hearing and deaf, study alongside faculty researchers and sharpen my interview skills. I just know that I’m going to make it. I work really hard.”

At NTID, Sankoh was a member of the Organization of African Students (OAS), Ebony Club, the Student Life Team and supported Spectrum, the LGBTIQ and straight alliance. And in March, Sankoh also become a U.S. citizen.

“Amie is an amazing person who exemplifies how to grow oneself,” said Joseph Johnston, director of RIT’s Center for Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution. “Amie’s resiliency and optimistic attitude provided such benefits to herself and the RIT community. She is a very special human being and is one of my favorite students I have ever had the pleasure to work with.”

Sankoh added, “Life is hard and we all have challenges. I’ve fallen and have gotten back up every time. I’m proof that there is always a way to overcome challenges.”

At the University of Tennessee, Sankoh will have 24/7 access to interpreting and notetaking services and will also receive a stipend to conduct her research. She said although her father is somewhat shocked and surprised at her achievements, she knew, deep down, that he expected nothing less.

“My father is so impressed by everything that I’ve been able to accomplish. And I’m so proud that he will be able to watch me cross that stage and move one step closer to my achieving my dream.”

RIT baseball wins first Liberty League title

15 May

Baseball team members in uniform pose with Liberty League banner.

The RIT baseball team (33-7) won its first Liberty League Championship, defeating Clarkson University (18-18) 9-4 at Tiger Stadium on May 12. RIT earns an automatic berth into the 2017 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship, its first in the program’s 65-year history. More.

RIT/NTID exhibit sheds light on deaf pioneers through interactive app

1 May

Screen shot of a computer game scene from the Civil War with tents and barrels, fire pit and pitcher w/trees in the background.

A draw for young people or anyone interested in American Sign Language and history, “Deaf Pioneers Adventure App Development” is sure to captivate guests at Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. The exhibit, located in the Student Alumni Union’s Fireside Lounge, takes viewers on an interactive journey alongside Laura Redden Searing, a deaf 19th-century journalist and poet. Through unique storytelling, exhibit creators will present a historically accurate portrayal of the woman who has become an inspiration to deaf people around the country. The single mother was a Civil War correspondent, world traveler and adventurer, and learned four languages and interviewed Abraham Lincoln at the White House using pen and paper.

“Traditionally, stories like these are taught using books, but we wanted to use technology so viewers can read and see the story in American Sign Language. It was exciting to think about what this might look like as an app,” said Chris Kurz, associate professor in the master’s degree program in secondary education of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. “While traditional modes of learning are still valuable, we thought it would be fascinating to tell historically accurate stories of some amazing deaf pioneers using animation and 3D modeling, and virtual reality with 360-degree views. And non-ASL users can also learn about these pioneers in English. This is a new approach in which the user really has a sense of involvement in the story.”

Guests to the exhibit will be able to use tablets or a desktop computer to see Redden Searing in a classroom at the Missouri School for the Deaf in 1855 and also on the battlefield where she often met with Gen. Ulysses Grant during the Civil War. Users can also play a telegram-based game and a drag-and-drop train game where users arrange puzzle pieces to “travel” from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., a route often taken by Redden Searing.

The team—three faculty members and seven students enrolled in different majors, including game design and development, film and animation, and the Master of Science in secondary education major, all from NTID—began working on the project last summer and hope to complete the animated story and 13 games in the app by the end of this summer. Then, development to incorporate other deaf pioneers into the app will begin.

“This has been a truly unique experience for all of the students and faculty members involved,” added Kurz. “We are happy to help different kinds of people learn in different ways. And we think that our exhibit will appeal to many different audiences, including deaf and hearing children, those interested in learning about American Sign Language, techies who like app development and history buffs. There is something for everyone.”

Winners of RIT/NTID’s Next Big Idea announced

27 Apr

Chris Wagner, Wade Keller, Hans Khols and Gerry Buckley together in front of brick wall with a check.

BAGMAG, a hands-free solution for making skateboards more easily portable on the back of a backpack, took home the $5,000 first prize in the 2017 Next Big Idea competition at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

Judges from the competition’s sponsor, ZVRS, a video relay service headquartered in Clearwater, Florida, reviewed the projects of the four team finalists, asked questions and selected first, second and third place winners:

$5,000 First Place: BAGMAG, uses a strong magnet inserted on the backpack that connects to a strong magnet affixed to the bottom of the skateboard and eliminates the need to remove the backpack and use straps to affix the skateboard.

$3,000 Second Place: ASL Storyteller, an interactive app that offers sign language to babies, both hearing and deaf, to help with language development and creates a richer environment for signing babies.

$2,000 Third Place: Expect Zone, a rear-view mirror with three flashing lights that lets deaf or hard-of-hearing drivers know when an ambulance, police car or fire engine is coming near. It flashes more quickly as the emergency vehicle gets closer.     

Four teams of deaf and hard-of-hearing students from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf went head-to-head April 26 during The Next Big Idea Competition, a ”Shark Tank” style business competition.

The contest is an annual event where teams of students combine skills related to their individual majors to create innovative products, technology or businesses. Teams work with mentors on their projects and compete before judges for cash prizes. This year marks the sixth anniversary of The Next Big Idea competition.

Team members are:

ASL Storyteller—Julie Love, a Graphic Design major from Riverside , California, and Logan Lugo, an International Business major from Columbus, Ohio.

BAGMAG—Hans Khols , an Industrial Design major from Boston, Massachusetts, and Wade Kellard, a Mechanical Engineering Technology major from Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Expect Zone— Amelia Hamilton, a New Media Marketing major from Austin, Texas, and Tanner Ketchum, an Accounting Technology major from Austin, Texas.

VIGN— Tobin Zolkowski, a Communication and Criminal Justice major from Neenah, Wisconsin, Iswor Ghimire, a Global Computing major from Nepal, Mohd Afifi Ishak, an Industrial Design major from Malaysia, and Jose Lopez, an Applied Computer Technology major from Los Angeles, California. Vign, described as a “Netflix for deaf people,” is designed to stream program content in sign language.

 “The Next Big Idea competition is the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work, creativity and innovation on the part of these student inventors and entrepreneurs,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “We have seen some amazing products and services start in this competition and move into production. We thank ZVRS for their steadfast support since the beginning of the Next Big Idea, and are grateful for the belief they have in our students.” 

RIT among hosts of NASA Space Apps Challenge

27 Apr

Illustration of globe with text on right in red and gray that reads NASA Space Apps Challenge 2017

Rochester Institute of Technology will serve as a host site for the 2017 NASA International Space Apps Challenge, a unique two-day hackathon, powered by AT&T. RIT is one of 200 host sites from around the world for the event taking place April 29 -30, 2017. The global challenge is designed to engage thousands of problem-solvers in working with NASA to create solutions to international and interdisciplinary problems using open-source data. More.