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Imagine RIT highlights academic and artistic creativity

30 Apr

Two young females display their names in American Sign Language.

Tens of thousands of visitors came to Rochester Institute of Technology on April 28 to see the latest in technology, the arts and design. This year the festival featured a record 438 exhibits. More.

Winners announced for RIT/NTID Next Big Idea competition

26 Apr

Far left and right are two light-skinned males and in the center are four young woman holding check.

Five 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 25 during The Next Big Idea Competition, a Shark Tank-style business competition. Small World That, a central hub that connects the international deaf community through a website and app, took home the $5,000 first prize. 

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

First place: Small World That (Sarah Stanislow, international and global studies major from Pittsford, N.Y.; Lauren Putz, international and global studies major from Naperville, Ill.; Rachel Soudakoff, MBA student from Burbank, Calif.; and Priyanka Patil, computer science graduate student from Mumbai, India) Through the Small World That platform, users can locate other deaf and hard-of-hearing people and signers around the world. According to the team, “the hope is for deaf people to take advantage of the small community we have and form new connections with each another in a convenient way.”

Second place: VeeTV (Andrew Cho, administrative support technology major from Hayward, Calif.; Vincent Venutolo, mobile and app development major from Bensalem, Pa.; and Sami Williamson, political science major from Hampton Bays, N.Y.) VeeTV is a media and entertainment company specializing in delivering media content to the deaf community. By bringing sign language to mass media on a streaming platform, the company enables the deaf community around the globe to enjoy their favorite movies, television shows, music videos, social media videos and more. VeeTV took home the $3,000 second-place prize.

Third place: BodyEasy (Tony Nguyen, industrial design major from Pennsauken, N.J.; John Huang, graduate business student from Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Evans Seraphin, applied computing major from Brooklyn, N.Y.) BodyEasy is a wearable assistive device that enables users to reduce the pressure on the back when lifting heavy objects. BodyEasy won the $2,000 third-place prize.

Other finalists included Yovato (Joseph Ruggieri, finance major from Hopewell, N.J., and Michael Wentland, mechanical engineering technology major from Lynnwood, Wash.), who  hopes to revitalize the sports industry by preventing knee injuries, and ASL Ripple (Emmanuel Perrodin-Njoku, biomedical sciences major from Washington, D.C.; Kaytlyn Johnson, Master of Architecture major from Fargo, N.D.; and Dara Levy, nutrition management major from Carmel, Ind.), an American Sign Language consulting firm serving interpreting programs within universities and organizations that focus on providing ASL interpreting services.

The Next Big Idea competition 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 seventh anniversary of the competition.

“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. “It’s evident that many of these projects contain the perfect blend of technology, art and design, while also providing a much-needed benefit to the community. I look forward to one day seeing some of these products move forward to production and sold in the marketplace.”

Researchers at NTID demonstrate accessible rower at Imagine RIT festival

24 Apr

Male student with beard and glasses writes on a clipboard while working on rowing skull.

As part of Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, researchers at NTID’s Center on Access Technology will demonstrate an accessible rower that enables deaf and hard-of-hearing rowers to follow verbal coxswain instructions during competitions. Festival visitors can sit in a canoe and test their reflex response times by using a game pad to reply to visual cues displayed on a smartphone.       

The idea for the accessible rower came about in 2016, with the addition of a deaf rower to the RIT men’s rowing team roster, with the possibility of other deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes joining the squad. In rowing competitions, rowers are required to follow commands from the coxswain, who determines the speed of the boat.

According to Wendy Dannels, a research faculty member in NTID’s Center on Access Technology and one of the project coordinators, the solution provides a visual display showing transcription and/or illustration of the coxswain’s commands. The application was developed to help the athletes synchronize with the coxswain by using a custom Automatic Speech Recognition engine. The engine is offline so the deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes can utilize the technology without internet connection.

In addition to Dannels, project team members are Steven McClusky, a fourth-year software engineering student from Blue Springs, Mo.; Joseph Stanislow, instructional/support faculty member, NTID Information and Computing Studies; and Brian Trager, associate director of the NTID Center on Access Technology.

Deaf undergrads from across the country to conduct research at RIT/NTID this summer

23 Apr

Light skinned male and female in lab coats, safety goggles and blue gloves work on science experiments.

For eight weeks this summer, Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will be home to the first all-deaf cohort of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), bringing deaf and hard-of-hearing students from across the country together to do research. 

The cohort of three RIT/NTID students, and one student each from the University of California, Berkeley; Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida; Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.; Ohlone College in Freemont, California; Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio and Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon, includes six women and three men, all of whom are deaf or hard-of-hearing. 

“Students were selected in a competitive process on the basis of who showed strong potential for research and fit in well with our current projects,” said Bonnie Jacob, assistant professor in the mathematical modeling program. “The projects are all from science and math, and include graph theory, astrophysics, biochemistry and analytical chemistry this year. There have been other REUs that invite one, two or a few deaf students each year, but we are the first REU to host a full cohort of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.” 

A Research Experience for Undergraduates program generally runs in the summer for eight to 10 weeks. Undergraduate students come from different universities, along with some from the home university, to be immersed in a research experience with guidance from a faculty mentor. 

This particular REU is a three-year award from the NSF, and will run for three summers, with the grant totaling $303,000. Students are paid a stipend, receive housing and some meal support and travel. They also have an opportunity to present their research at a conference. In addition to the research experience, RIT/NTID is adding writing coaching, a research boot camp that involves mathematical and scientific training and professional development sessions tailored specifically to students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. They also will have presentations by invited guests. 

“REUs are exciting programs because faculty mentors and students work side-by-side on original research,” Jacob said. “The opportunity to simultaneously make scientific discoveries while watching the students transform themselves into researchers is awesome. A full-time research experience over the summer often is a critical part of an undergraduate student’s preparation to go to graduate school or enter a career in a scientific or mathematical field. We are very excited about our group of students this year: they come from all over the country, have a diverse set of backgrounds, and also have a variety of career goals. They will come together this summer with the common thread of being undergraduate students who are deaf or hard of hearing and are eager to do science and math research. Several students have told me that they’re excited about the program. I know I am!” 

For more on the project, visit the RIT/NTID REU website: https://people.rit.edu/bcjntm/REU.html.

RIT/NTID Student Research Fair touts cutting-edge work of undergraduate, graduate students

20 Apr

African-American female with short hair and glasses wearing a grey shirt standing in front of a poster.

Joan Bempong, a fifth-year BS/MS computer engineering student from Irving, Texas, believes that deaf women who use American Sign Language exhibit disparities in health literacy when compared to hearing women. She says limited health literacy may be caused by inaccessibility of mainstream information and healthcare services, as well as family communication difficulties. As a result, ineffective dissemination of health information also may have a significant impact upon deaf women’s mental and physical health. She hopes that her research will help develop a comprehensive framework for understanding how such health disparities occur and what steps can be taken to improve quality of life.

Abraham Glasser, a third-year computer science student from Rochester, N.Y., and Emily Lederman, a second-year computer science student from Morgantown, W.V., are using mathematical equations to determine worst-case scenarios for monitoring electric power networks. They hope one day their research will save power companies and consumers a lot of money.

On April 13, Bempong, Glasser and Lederman joined 61 other deaf and hard-of-hearing student researchers at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s Student Research Fair in Rosica Hall. The event gives undergraduate and graduate students, in partnership with faculty mentors, the opportunity to present posters or give demonstrations on topics related to health science, communication studies, access technology and environmental research, among others.

Todd Pagano, associate dean for teaching and scholarship excellence and founding director of NTID’s Laboratory Science Technology program, is among the coordinators of the research fair. Pagano said the research fair is unique because of the training that is offered to students ahead of time on writing and editing abstracts, designing research posters and presenting research to audiences.

“The projects we’re seeing are very sophisticated and diverse with a good mix of high-level science, math, healthcare and access technology research,” said Pagano. “We send many of our students to professional conferences to present their work, but the pinnacle of the experience for students often is having their research published. And a lot of what is seen here at the research fair has already been published.”

Musab Al-Smadi, a fourth-year software engineering student from Jordan, also presented his research. He is working on an inclusive mobile app using Near Field Communication that will enable deaf and hard-of-hearing museumgoers to fully explore their surroundings without facing barriers having to do with obtaining information about exhibits. For example, according to Al-Smadi, many museums offer visitors paper transcripts with exhibit descriptions. However, using transcripts can be inconvenient for patrons with varying levels of vision ability, or frustrating for those for whom English is a second language. The new app can be used on Android and iOS platforms and includes a keypad where users can type in the ID number of the exhibit to get the information or use their devices to hover over QR codes.

“Being able to work with faculty on relevant research has been a very positive experience,” said Al-Smadi. “We’re taking concepts that we’ve learned in the classroom and developing them even further for applications like this.”

Heather Smith, director of the NTID Motion Lab and senior lecturer in the 3D graphics technology program, creates and applies innovative projects using motion-capture technologies for product development, research and scholarship. She is working with a team of students to use motion capture to build an interactive, visual storytelling app with 360-degree views, animation, bilingual literacy and gaming. The app, Deaf Pioneer, teaches history dating back to the late 1800s and allows users to fully immerse themselves in the story.

“I am very fortunate to be a faculty member who works closely with deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students on their research projects,” said Smith. “I feel honored being part of their research journey as I share my wealth of knowledge and fuel them to fly higher and discover what is in store for them in the future. I try to become their mentor and their ally.”

Bempong emphasized the quality of her research experience. “It has been a phenomenal experience. Given that I am a computer engineering student graduating with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, this research was fascinating in that it was completely different from my field of study. Because of the mentorship of Professor Deirdre Schlehofer, I was able to gain qualitative research skills, as well as more awareness about my own community and recognize the need to improve health literacy among us.”

The Student Research Fair is funded by the NTID Office of the President and jointly sponsored by the Associate Dean for Teaching and Scholarship Excellence and the Associate Dean of Research.