Empowering Students through knowledge

One can easily tell what's important to Patricia Durr by looking around her small office. Black and white and color photos of her children and other people very special to her line one wall in no particular order. Another wall showcases all types of artwork by her students, children and professional artists, each carrying equal importance in its placement. Next to them hangs a framed newspaper article about the famous 1988 controversy in Washington, D.C., that caused the world to listen to deaf people's needs.

Favorite quotes torn from magazines are taped to the computer, alongside colorful Post-its with phone numbers and scribbled reminders.

She is constantly interrupted by students dropping by for a quick question, and it's obvious they are her first priority.

As associate professor of social sciences and deaf studies in NTID's cultural and creative studies department, she tells her students on the first day of class to go back and find the child in themselves, the one whose favorite word is 'why?'

"First and foremost in my thoughts are to empower students through knowledge," says Durr, who has taught at RIT/NTID for 14 years. "I encourage my students to explore, and to understand that they do have a very active and vital role in our society.

"Some of the classroom strategies I have found to be very effective with students," she says, "have been the use of very diverse and dynamic guest presenters, mock trials about controversial issues, class debates, and individual and group presentations."

"One of Patti's strengths is being able to get people to think more critically, in a way that does not seem patronizing, intimidating or threatening, but rather neutral," says former NTID student Erin Esposito.

Ricky Postl, also a former student, says that he continues to be amazed by the multiple areas of expertise and charisma Durr has to offer to the Rochester community and NTID/RIT.

"I have come to the very good conclusion that Patricia is a breathing gold mine," he says.

On and off campus, Durr is very active promoting arts and culture, as well as supporting many different causes and working to improve education and increase awareness in everything she does.

Durr, who grew up very hard of hearing, didn't learn sign language until she was 20. She can relate to her deaf and hard-of-hearing students and the isolation they have often felt growing up.

While most college-age men and women tend to be insecure and unsure, Durr says that many deaf and hard-of-hearing college-age students share those normal feelings, but have an added feeling of thinking that they are not capable of doing certain things that their hearing peers can.

Durr attributes that to being overprotected as youngsters, being isolated from communication, and in many cases being told by family or educators through the years that they can't do something because of their deafness.

"Through my teaching, I encourage them to become advocates for themselves, and to show them that indeed, they can," Durr explains.

"I love it when a student has a 'Eureka' moment," she says about some of the rewards of her job. "And I love it when a student brings a new interpretation to something that I didn't see in that way. My students are a continual inspiration to me. They have taught me a great deal."

Since 1965, RIT's Eisenhart Awards for Outstanding Teaching have honored and celebrated faculty excellence. Up to four awards are given each year to recipients in various RIT programs. Winners are chosen through rigorous peer review of student nominations. This year, four professors will receive the awards during the academic convocation on Friday, May 21.

The Eisenhart family, for whom the awards are named, has a long history with RIT. The late M. Herbert Eisenhart, president and board chairman of Bausch & Lomb, was an RIT trustee for more than 50 years. Richard Eisenhart continues the RIT connection, serving on the board since 1972, as chairman for six years and now as trustee emeritus.

RIT News & Events, May 13, 2004