Held on campus on the first Saturday in May—rain, snow, or shine—Imagine RIT is a showcase of more than 400 student, faculty, and staff exhibits, live performances, and research projects. But this is not just a show and tell. Participants, including Rochester and upstate New York residents as well as prospective students and their families, get hands-on experience with RIT's breadth of technical and artistic offerings. RIT President Bill Destler brought the idea for the festival to campus when he arrived in 2007, having supported a similar event at University of Maryland.
Organizers say Imagine RIT has changed people's perception of the university.
"Imagine RIT is an interactive way for visitors to immerse themselves into all that the university has to offer," said Barry Culhane, executive assistant to the president, who serves as festival chairman. "We are proud year after year to showcase the breadth of innovation and creativity among our faculty, staff, and students. The festival is truly a platform upon which we can illustrate why RIT is consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the nation's leading comprehensive universities and the second largest producer of undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics among all U.S. private universities."
And throughout the festival's history, exhibitors have made significant connections with corporate and research contacts.
As undergraduate students in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences in 2011, Justin Lewis, Fran Rogers and Taylor Rose wanted to help deaf and hard-of-hearing children from developing countries have an easier time of communicating with their peers around the world.
So the trio created Open Video Chat, an open-source program for low-cost XO laptops that enables users to communicate via American Sign Language. Hundreds of people stopped by their exhibit during the festival to use the software and to play educational computer games created by the students.
Impressed by their innovation, an attendee nominated Lewis, Rogers, and Rose for special recognition by Digital Rochester, a local professional organization. A few months later, they learned they had won a coveted Student Achievement Award from the organization during its 2011 GREAT (Greater Rochester Excellence and Achievements in Technology) Awards ceremony.
"We were thrilled," said Lewis, who earned his bachelor's degree in computer science and now is a programmer for Dealer.com in Burlington, Vt. "Imagine RIT gave us an opportunity to help others and be a part of a very special day."
Substance addiction and intimate partner violence are challenging behaviors to change. RIT forensic clinical psychologist Dr. Caroline Easton, along with professors Richard Doolittle, Jim Perkins, and Glen Hintz and medical illustration graduate students Alan Gesek and Ray Szigeti, turned to technology as a way of encouraging perpetrators of these behaviors to modify their actions.
Thus was born "Al-Virt," an animated coach who explains the deleterious effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain, via an interactive video. The team also created a smartphone app that helps people manage their anger in constructive ways versus committing aggressive acts.
Presented during Imagine RIT in 2013, the work has attracted a significant amount of attention, including an opportunity to present at a forum during New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State-of-the-State address as well as appearances on National Public Radio and local media outlets. "Research shows that 85 percent of substance abusers and intimate partner violence perpetrators own smartphones and computers," said Easton, who holds a doctoral degree in psychology from University of Connecticut. "We think that this project, along with further study, will show clients the negative consequences of their behaviors via engaging technology."
Through Imagine RIT, Dave Sluberski demonstrates the fun that can be had for people involved in the fields of film and animation.
In 2012, visitors had the chance to create the sounds of a popping pimple to show how sound effects are created for films. Using props such as squishy spaghetti and balloons, kids and their parents recorded the noises while watching a cartoon character negotiate his troublesome forehead.
The production techniques that festivalgoers used are typically executed in a Foley Sound Studio, which is part of RIT's School of Film and Animation's sound facilities.
"The visitors love it," said Sluberski, a 15-year lecturer in RIT's School of Film and Animation and former senior audio technologist for the local PBS television station. "We get a smile and a laugh."
Plenty of prospective students and their parents stop by the exhibit to learn more about the film and animation industries. Attendees learn about graduates' successes, including alumni who've landed sound careers with "Saturday Night Live," Warner Bros., and Maryland Public Television.
"Imagine RIT helps us communicate the connection between creativity and technology that is such an integral part of this field," Sluberski added. "Many folks who stop by during the festival turn into future students."
Linda Gottermeier, associate professor and rehabilitative audiologist, and Simon Ting, instructional developer, both at RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, know the benefits of video technology for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
At Imagine RIT in 2013, they demonstrated the use of video in the job-seeking process. NTID students Kensie Channon and Joseph Valdez had the chance to conduct mock job interviews, prepare and present video résumés, and make business presentations about prototype companies that they have created.
"The purpose of this project is to rehearse real-life business opportunities and professional interactions through the medium of video," explained Gottermeier, noting that three NTID researchers, Donna Lange, Myra Pelz, and Gary Long, are looking at ways to include this technology on the website (www.deaftec.org) for their National Science Foundation Center, DeafTEC. The Center provides resources to improve the access to technological education and employment for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
"In addition, these tools can be beneficial to NTID alumni who are looking for new career opportunities."
Little did undergraduate student Karyn Bower imagine that a survey she would conduct during her junior year might help her land full-time employment after graduation.
Such was the case, however, when Bower, a criminal justice major from Bloomsburg, Pa., asked visitors to her exhibit about their perceptions of crime in Rochester and throughout the United States. Nearly 300 individuals completed the six-question survey, and their results were telling.
"Most people drastically overestimated the murder rate in Rochester, while drastically underestimating the murder rate nationwide," she said.
Immediately, others took notice of Bower's findings, as presented in a 29-page research paper. The study was cited during the 2013 Rochester mayoral race and several media outlets reported on the research conclusions as well.
Moreover, Bower included the study on her résumé, which helped her land her current position as a crime research analyst for the Monroe County Crime Analysis Center. She started working at the center in February 2014 while taking four classes to complete her undergraduate degree in May 2014.
"I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of Imagine RIT," she said. "It was all new to me and led to some fascinating conversations with people. The project taught me a lot about people's perceptions of local and national crime."