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Enjoying a Challenge

27 Sep

A student in a white shirt with beard and glasses sits by a computer with the screen off and other equipment.

Benjamin Polstra from Noblesville, Indiana, completed a summer co-op at GEICO in Chevy Chase, Maryland, that turned into a fulltime job. Polstra, who will graduate in sping 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in information technology, worked as a GEICO summer intern.

Polstra was responsible for a significant information technology (IT) business project—bigger than any project he had ever worked on before, and to complete it, he had to learn different tools and concepts along the way. He used his information technology skills on individual assignments and team projects, attended meetings and gave presentations. He was able to reach out to and receive mentoring from  team members and members of the IT management team. By the end of the summer, Polstra felt he had become a better developer with the increased confidence that came from handling a project of that size. He also learned how an insurance company runs and how they practice customer service.

He says that taking courses that taught the fundamental and advanced level of object-oriented programming, such as Java or C#, was valuable. The courses he took that teach client and server programming were necessary as well. The software design, principles and patterns, organizational behavior and apps development practices courses all were greatly helpful in his summer responsibilities, and taking on a leadership role gave him valuable experience in how to work with a team. He also learned that no matter where you work, asking a lot of questions is a must-have skill.

Polstra believes his degree will open doors to many opportunities. The coursework associated with it has prepared the fundamental bedrock, which he can use to demonstrate his knowledge of the IT field, and to work confidently with new concepts and ideas. He says that GEICO is the manifestation of how he’s been preparing himself; it has been changing, abandoning old traditions and embracing new ideas. The company has expanded its IT department rapidly to enable their growth spurt. That’s how he sees himself—growing rapidly to become not only a better IT person, but a more accomplished software developer.

Polstra offers the following advice for other students. “Don’t just work hard; play with what you like to do. If you are majoring in photography, play around with a camera.If computer science is your major, play around with a computer. Share with your friends and find mentors who can help you grow. You shouldn’t be discouraged by a challenge. Just try hard, and when you are successful, you will end up enjoying your success a lot more. Don’t think about grades so much because you will already excel at what you do, if you enjoy whatever you are doing.”

RIT to become first university to publish video game on Xbox One platform

31 Aug

Rochester Institute of Technology will become the first university to publish a video game on the Xbox One gaming platform when Hack, Slash & Backstab is officially launched on Wednesday, Aug. 31. The game, which will be available for purchase, will also debut simultaneously on the Steam platform and be available for sale through the digital storefront Humble.

Hack, Slash & Backstab was produced in residence at RIT in a studio course offered through RIT’s internationally ranked School of Interactive Games and Media, and the RIT Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC).

The game won third place in the Best Visual Quality category of the 2016 Intel University Games Showcase in March as part of the 2016 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

RIT’s game design and development program was recently ranked third at the undergraduate level and seventh at the graduate level according to the new 2016 international rankings from “The Princeton Review.” More.

Deaf entrepreneurs on the rise

14 Jun

Deaf entrepreneur Alec Satterly wearing a green shirt seated at a desk, working on a computer.

This article about the growth of Deaf entrepreneurship by W. Scott Atkins, a business studies professor at RIT/NTID and nationally recognized deaf entrepreneurship expert, originally appeared in the Rochester “Democrat & Chronicle” and is reprinted with permission. (Photo credit:  A. Sue Weisler, RIT)

Deaf entrepreneurs on the rise, locally, nationally 

There is a revolution happening in Rochester and all across the United States. The number of deaf people running their own businesses has grown by leaps and bounds. Technological advances have made it possible for these individuals to access networks, customers and suppliers. There are now growing networks of deaf entrepreneurs.

Last weekend, I attended an event for local deaf entrepreneurs sponsored by Convo, a deaf-owned video relay service (VRS), and run by CEO Jarrod Musano, a deaf graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. There were 30-35 deaf business owners at the event, and they were grateful for the opportunity to network. I overheard a deaf realtor say to a deaf business owner who owns several rental properties, “Contact me and let’s see if we can do business together.” Convo has coordinated these types of events in other cities and has invested in a “Deaf Business Ecosystem,” which includes the creation of an online directory that now contains information on more than 250 deaf-owned businesses from all over the country.

Last semester at RIT/NTID, I was involved with a student business competition called the Next Big Idea, sponsored by VRS provider ZVRS, which provided opportunities for students to work on cross-disciplinary teams to innovate new products and services. This year, 15 teams competed for the opportunity to win cash prizes. It is my hope that many of these concepts will develop into full-fledged businesses.

In a class that I teach at RIT/NTID, called Introduction to Entrepreneurship, deaf and hard-of-hearing students create their own business with less than $20 of their own money. One student, Alec Satterly, established a bike repair business and was able to earn $650 during his winter break. Over the next few years, Alec participated in several entrepreneurship efforts on the RIT/NTID campus and has been very successful.

In 2014, his team, Cenify, won the ZVRS Next Big Idea grand prize of $5,000, and that summer, he and his team gained entry into the Saunders Summer Start-up Program, an incubator program at RIT. Cenify has since moved into RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator, which helps companies move to the next phase of their businesses. This is just one illustration of how RIT/NTID fosters entrepreneurship on campus. In addition, RIT/NTID brings alumni who are business owners to campus to speak with students. Alumnus and RIT Trustee Rob Rice, owner and founder of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm BayFirst Solutions, presented last year. RIT/NTID also works closely with RIT’s Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship in an effort to boost the number of deaf entrepreneurs on campus. Currently, we have two all-deaf teams who are part of the Saunders Summer Start-up Program.

This is only the beginning. There are many deaf and hard-of-hearing people who want to create their own businesses, but they are not sure where to start. It is important that we invest in new infrastructures to make this happen. This requires a collaborative effort by universities, agencies, corporations and other entrepreneurs. With their support, I am optimistic that we will continue to see the growth of a new generation of deaf entrepreneurs, especially here in Rochester.


RIT all-female race team places third in national competition

6 May

RIT student wearing a purple helmet driving an orange and sliver electric race car.

Hot Wheelz, Rochester Institute of Technology’s all-female race team, finished third in the electric category in its first national event, the Formula Hybrid competition that took place May 2-5, 2016 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. The team’s on- and off-track performance also was recognized with two additional trophies, the GM Spirit of Formula Hybrid and the Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Gracious Professionalism awards. More.


RIT/NTID student team making strides with Wavio wireless sound recognition system

4 May

Greyson from Hz Innovations in black t-shirt explaining invention to man in suit and bow tie

The student team of Hz Innovations is confident that they have developed a product that deaf and hard-of-hearing homeowners can’t possibly live without. A working prototype of their Wavio wireless sound recognition system will be on display and in action at Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, May 7.

Wavio contains sound-capturing units that are connected to a home Wi-Fi system. When a doorbell rings, smoke alarm chimes, water faucet drips or dog barks, for example, the unit notifies the homeowner via smartphone, smart watch, tablet or laptop, and identifies the sound. According to developers, virtually any sound deemed important to the homeowner can be recorded and “memorized” by the system during installation.

At the booth, visitors will participate in live demonstrations and be able to offer feedback on the Wavio device. The team is also interested in collecting testimonials from deaf and hard-of-hearing students and homeowners to find out how Wavio could impact their lives.

The team—Greyson Watkins, Chrystal Schlenker, Zach Baltzer and Nicholas Lamb—have won or placed in several local and regional business competitions over the past year and recently secured a contract to produce 1,000 units. In fact, with product manufacturing a key component to success, the co-founders are anxious to grow their team and are encouraging students to drop off résumés at their Imagine RIT booth in the Student Alumni Union.

“We’re certainly looking for deaf people and engineers to join our team,” said Lamb, a fifth-year electrical engineering student from Waterloo, N.Y. “And we’re also looking for people who are anxious to learn more about becoming part of a unique start-up business.”

Added Baltzer, a fourth-year microelectronic engineering student from Hilton, N.Y., “It’s amazing that a little more than a year ago we were looking for a cool project to focus on. Now we’re co-founders of a company.”