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MotionSavvy: The Next Big Idea

12 Jun

When a team of four students won third place in NTID’s The Next Big Idea innovation competition in spring 2013, they felt they had created something special. The team, known as MotionSavvy, had developed an application that would enable a tablet or other device to translate sign language into audible words and sentences, allowing deaf and hearing people to communicate much more easily and quickly.

Last summer the students, Ryan Hait-Campbell, a new media design major from Seattle; Alex Opalka, a computer engineering major from Glastonbury, Connecticut; Wade Kellard, a mechanical engineering technology major from Cincinnati, Ohio; and Jorden Stemper, an industrial design major from Waukesha, Wisconsin, were accepted into RIT’s Summer Start-Up course for new businesses at RIT’s Saunders College of Business and the Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The team is now in San Francisco working with Leap Motion, Inc. a company that manufactures and markets a computer hardware sensor device that supports hand and finger motions as input, like a mouse, but requiring no hand contact or touching. Leap Motion’s LEAP AXLR8R provides the technical support the MotionSavvy team needs to further their work on technology that will benefit deaf and hearing people. Quickly making the leap from college students to business people, the team now has created a tablet app and is seeking investors and grants for more research and development. More

NTID Opens Doors to Employment

22 May

Calvin Young expects to graduate in May with his bachelor’s degree in new media marketing. But unlike many new college graduates, he’s already working full time even before he’s donned his cap and gown.

His door to employment opened three years ago during one of his co-ops with ZVRS, a video relay company based in Clearwater, Fla.

“They really liked me, so they asked me to continue working for them as a contractor,” said Young, who is from Austin, Texas. “When I told them I was nearly finished with school, that’s how I ended up working here.”

He started in November in the creative marketing department developing scripts and social media strategies after finishing another co-op with National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. He plans to wrap up his final semester online.

Last year, 93 percent of RIT/NTID students seeking employment found jobs within a year after graduation. Historically, more than 90 percent of deaf and hard-of-hearing graduates who have chosen to enter the labor market have obtained jobs in business, industry, government, education and other fields.

A study by NTID, Cornell University and the Social Security Administration shows by age 50, deaf and hard-of-hearing graduates with a bachelor's degree from RIT/NTID earn 178 percent more than their peers who graduated from other colleges.

RIT’s co-op program, career counseling, and the annual NTID Job Fair are contributing to the successful employment.

“Our mission is to prepare students with the skills necessary to find employment and be productive members of their communities after their time here at RIT/NTID,” said NTID President Gerry Buckley ’78 (social work).

Center on Employment

A tremendous resource for RIT/NTID students seeking employment options is the NTID Center on Employment (NCE). Employment advisers meet students on an individual basis and help them find co-ops, tweak their résumés and participate in mock job interviews that are recorded so the students can review the interview to practice their answers and help build their confidence when the real thing occurs.

“It’s often nerve-wracking for anyone to go through a job interview, but if you are deaf or hard of hearing, it adds another dimension of nervousness,” said NCE Director John Macko ’91, ’98 (finance, career and human resource development). “Even the timing for when they should tell a prospective employer they are deaf needs to be considered.”

Employment advisers often make visits to students working in co-ops with new employers around the country to make sure things are going smoothly for both the student and employer.

NCE also educates prospective employers by offering workshops to teach them how to work with deaf employees. They play recordings of spoken phrases with some frequency pitches deleted to simulate what a deaf or hard-of-hearing employee may experience, and they offer suggestions on alternative ways to communicate—such as sending emails, tapping on the shoulder to get attention and speaking one at a time in a group setting.

“Some businesses, especially small and medium ones that haven’t had much exposure to deaf individuals, can be hesitant to offer a job to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, not because they don’t think they are qualified, but because they think they may have to spend money on a full-time interpreter or they may be unsure how to communicate,” Macko said. “A little education and offering 10-week co-ops often break down those barriers.”

Networking with grads

NCE holds an annual job fair in October, where dozens of companies recruit RIT/NTID students. In many cases, the recruiters were former RIT/NTID students themselves.

Philip Miller ’03 (computer graphics and technical writing), a technical support manager for Sorenson Communications in Rochester, also had his job waiting for him before he graduated.

He remembers his NCE employment adviser helping him develop his résumé and telling him what to expect during his job interviews. “It definitely helped me become confident in meeting potential employers,” he said. “I am really grateful for that experience.”

Miller said attending the job fair now reminds him of his own experience as a student, meeting potential employers and walking away feeling good and well informed.

“I play two roles: I present myself as a company representative to recruit potential candidates for open positions, and I am an alumnus to show current students my appreciation for my RIT/NTID experience.”

It’s not unusual to have large companies such as Microsoft, Google and IBM attend the job fair, as well as smaller companies and government agencies or contractors, including the CIA, FBI and FAA.

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed an executive order for federal government agencies to hire, retain and advance workers with disabilities, with a goal of hiring 100,000 federal employees with disabilities.

Macko said that order has government agencies interested in attending NTID job fairs, doing information sessions and visiting technical classes to educate students about the various employment opportunities.

Envisioning their potential

Occasionally, NTID will partner with a business such as The Dow Chemical Co., Bayer or IBM to bring students onsite to learn more about the company and what careers they may seek there.

In November, nine business and computing students hopped on a bus to Pittsburgh to visit Highmark, a major health care insurer that employs 16 deaf or hard-of-hearing employees—12 of them graduates of RIT/NTID.

The students met RIT/NTID alumnus Aaron Bosley ’05 (information technology), who landed his job with Highmark just one week after he graduated, and Matt Martella ’10 (information technology).

“When I came here, the manager wanted to ensure I’d be included as a person who is deaf within a team of hearing employees,” Bosley told the students. “I kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll make it work,’ and I taught the team how to work with me.”

Bosley and Martella said they feel comfortable and have no problems understanding co-workers. They are free to schedule sign language interpreters from an agency when they feel one will be needed. And they frequently use video relay interpreters to allow them to participate in conference calls.

“They provided me with an interpreter all day for my first day or two. After that, I was fine without one on a regular basis,” Martella said.

And Bosley started informal classes at Highmark for his fellow co-workers who are interested in learning sign language. “It’s a nice company to work for and I have a fun job,” he said.

The students asked how Martella and Bosley became successful at work.

“I had to learn how to connect with different people and make sure I was meeting their expectations,” Martella replied. For quick communication needs, he uses a white board, email or resorts to pen and paper if he needs to.

“You have to be self-motivated,” Bosley said. “Don’t just wait for people to tell you what to do.”

The students reflected on their visit during their bus ride back to Rochester.

“It was very helpful to meet with employees like Matt and Aaron because they graduated from RIT/NTID,” said Taylor Yukawa, a fifth-year finance major from Newcastle, Wash. “We can relate to them because they stood where we are years ago, and now, they’re great role models for us.”

Claire Bernard, a third-year new media interactive development major from Albany, Ga., said she was inspired to learn about Bosley and Martella’s journey. “This trip taught me to expand my horizons and take every good opportunity that comes my way.”

Federal funding

NTID was created by and continues to receive funding from Congress, which entrusts the college to provide outstanding postsecondary technical education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students from across the country.

Despite challenging economic conditions and the government’s sequestration, which resulted in cuts in federal funding, Congress this year allocated nearly $66.3 million for NTID, up from $62 million last year.

“I believe this symbolizes the confidence of Congress in both NTID’s continued success in fulfilling its mission and our commitment to fiscal discipline,” said NTID President Gerry Buckley.

“The funding will allow NTID to continue fulfilling its mission to prepare deaf and hard-of-hearing students for career success. We will be able to reinvest in some of the areas that have been impacted by previous reductions in our funding, ensuring that we can continue to provide an affordable, high quality education for our students.”

Buckley said that NTID is grateful for “a group of very special friends in Washington, led by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Louise Slaughter, whose ongoing support has been key to the college’s success.”

At a news conference in January, Schumer called NTID one of the great institutes in America. “This is not just good for all who attend, this is good for all of America, because when you do well, we do well,” he said.

RIT/NTID Student Paves the Way for Deaf Athletes

6 May

Skip Flanagan, a third-year RIT/NTID student majoring in Psychology, was born deaf, but he has used that as an advantage in life and as a first baseman for the RIT Tigers. More.

RIT/NTID Alumnus Hopes Third Time is the Charm on “The Amazing Race”

28 Jan

RIT/NTID alumnus Luke Adams and his mother, Margie O’Donnell, will be featured a record third time on the popular CBS reality show “The Amazing Race” when the 24th season kicks off on Feb. 23, the network confirmed today.

Adams, who received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2008, became the first deaf contestant on the show when he and his mother raced around the world in season 14, which aired in 2009. The show features teams that are given clues that take them around the world, often to exotic locations. The teams are confronted with physical and mental tasks to complete to receive additional clues. The last team to check in each week is usually eliminated. The first-place team shares a $1 million prize.

In season 14, Adams slid down a hill in the Alps with a 50-pound wheel of cheese, ran in his underwear in sub-freezing temperatures in Russia, got bitten by a bird in China and carried a pig on a pole in Hawaii. He and his mother made the finals that season and came in third place, winning $10,000.

They were brought back to appear on the 18th season of “The Amazing Race” featuring previous contestants who had “unfinished business.” They finished in eighth place.

CBS said the 11 teams for this all-star season were “some of the most memorable duos.” If they don’t get eliminated, teams will travel through four continents and nine countries, spanning more than 35,000 miles. The race will take them on a mission high above the city in Guangzhou, China, rappelling down the roaring rapids of the Kiansom Waterfall in Malaysia, fighting with Gladiators in Rome, and fueling up vehicles in Sri Lanka.

No teams have ever appeared on the show more than twice. Adams and O’Donnell are among three that will be in the race for a third time.

“It was a huge surprise. We did not see it coming,” Adams said. “We got the call out of the blue last July. They were like, “Hey, do you want to do the race again?”

Adams works as an advancement associate at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia. His mother, a registered nurse, lives in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Adams worked at NTID in the summer of 2009 as a co-director of Orientation Assistants for NTID’s Summer Vestibule Program, which welcomes incoming students to RIT. While here, Adams entertained audiences by talking about his experiences on the show. O’Donnell also visited Rochester and spoke to parents here about her experience raising a deaf child and sending him off to college.

Adams was named Deaf Person of the Year in 2009 by Deaf Life magazine and appeared on its cover.

On his first appearance on the show, Adams said he hoped to set an example that deaf people can do anything. “A lot of deaf people think you can’t go on TV, or shouldn’t apply to different things,” he said. “I want to give deaf people hope. That’s what I want to do.”

RIT/NTID Alumna Amber Zion to sign National Anthem for Super Bowl XLVIII

28 Jan

Amber Zion

Amber Zion

The hundred million television fans tuning in to watch Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 may see two women with roots in Rochester performing the National Anthem.

Opera star Renee Fleming, a graduate of Eastman School of Music, will sing the anthem as Amber Zion, an actress who graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, will sign the anthem using American Sign Language.

“I was told that her voice is beautiful and graceful, which is perfect because it will match my American Sign Language translation,” said Zion, who is deaf. “I’m really looking forward to it!”

Zion was chosen for the event after she submitted an audition video to the National Association of the Deaf last fall. NAD has worked with the Super Bowl since 2008, when a commercial entirely in sign language was televised during the pregame show.

“The Super Bowl is one of the most-watched events of the year,” said NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum. “Integrating American Sign Language into the performance of the National Anthem during the pregame not only raises awareness of ASL, it also helps to ensure that this iconic event is inclusive for all Americans.”

A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Zion graduated from RIT/NTID in 2004 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She also earned a certificate in 2003 in Script Emphasis in Performing Arts and appeared in many productions in NTID’s Robert F. Panara Theatre and in The Tempest off Broadway at the Interborough Repertory Theatre in New York City.

She and her husband, Ari Zion, a 2004 graduate of RIT/NTID with a degree in Applied Arts and Sciences, live in Los Angeles. She has appeared in several films. She was featured on a Kay Jewelers Christmas commercial for several years and had a starring role on CBS’s CSI:NY episode, Silent Night.

Zion performed the National Anthem when she was in high school, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were in a playoff game. “That was the most amazing experience,” she said. “I can only imagine the experience I will have at the Super Bowl this year. I’m honored to be a part of it, and I can’t wait to share the beauty of ASL with the world.