Tiger Heritage Alumni Spotlight

Tiger Heritage Alumni Spotlight celebrates alumni that pursue infinite possibilities. Each featured alum creates a positive impact - whether it's in their community, their career, or something wildly creative.

Native American Heritage Month - Jolene Rickard BFA '78

Tiger Heritage Spotlight Jolene Rickard BFA '78 RIT is within the ancestral homelands of the Seneca Nation, and I believe that it's important to take responsibility and know what Indigenous Nation(s) land you live on or within. November is Native American Heritage Month

Dr. Jolene Rickard, (BFA ’78) is a visual historian, artist, and curator interested in the intersection of Indigenous knowledge and contemporary art with an emphasis on Haudenosaunee aesthetics. Rickard states, “Approach learning as a life-long pursuit. And, give generously to others based on your good fortune.”

Meet Jolene Rickard BFA ’78

Tiger Heritage Month - Omar de Frias BS '02

Omar De Frias BS '02

Meet Omar de Frias BS ’02 (he/him/his). Omar was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Dominican Republic. He loves sharing what the Hispanic community has to offer—“our cuisine, traditions, beliefs, and contributions!” For Omar, Hispanic Heritage Month highlights aspects of his community that will hopefully inspire people to extend their learning beyond September 15 – October 15.

Meet Omar de Frias BS ’02

Pride Month - Sam Brett AS '97

Sam Brett with rainbow paint on his face, hand, and arm.

Meet Sam Brett (he/him/his) an educator, drag performer, and queer rights advocate. Pride Month holds special significance for Sam as he has helped plan ROC Pride for many years. Sam, also known as Samantha Vega when in drag, was crowned the first Miss RIT in 1995, Miss Gay Pride Rochester in 2006, Miss Gay Rochester in 2007, Miss Gay Syracuse in 2008, CNY Entertainer of the Year, Miss Gay pride Buffalo 2010, and Miss Salt City Drag battle in both 2019 and 2020.

Meet Sam

Jewish Heritage Month - Michael Blain BS '57

Tiger Heritage Spotlight: Michael Blain BS '57 May Jewish American Heritage Month. "During my first year I became very involved in student organizations. One of the organizations that I was involved with was Hillel at the University of Rochester. I liked attending their events, but I wanted o have our own at RIT. With the encouragement of the campus chaplains, I started our own Hillel."

Michael was born in Czechoslovakia. During World War II, he moved to Budapest to evade the Nazis. After the war, he was able to find his two surviving siblings. He eventually moved to New York to find his sister, only to be drafted in the Korean War. When the Korean War ended, he was accepted into RIT's printing program. Michael met his wife, Sylvia, in Highland Park after a synagogue service. They have been married for over 60 years.

Meet Michael

Deaf History Month - Smitha Hanumantha BS '05

Tiger Heritage Spotlight: Smitha Hanumantha BS '05 April Deaf History Month "Deaf Culture is beautiful and to live in Rochester, there's such a rich history of the Deaf comunity so it's fortunate that one would get to experience this and become a part of it."

Smitha Hanumantha BS '05 started her RIT Career at Explore Your Future, a National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) career exploration program, and left with a multidisciplinary degree in web and graphic design. She started off her career as a marketing specialist at Access Interpreting in Washington, D.C., and then moved to Dallas Texas, to become an integral member of the Deaf Action Center. There, she started off as a marketing specialist and became the creative director for the nonprofit organization. Recently, she moved back to Washington, D.C. to pursue a career as an Integrated Digital Marketing Strategist at Gallaudet University.

Meet Smitha

Women's Heritage Month - Mona Samaan-Ockenden BS '94

Tiger Heritage Spotlight: Mona Samaan-Ockenden BS '94 RIT prepared me, hands down, to be a problem solver - meaning I can do anything. I may not have the skills to initially complete a task. However, I'm not afraid to learn what I don't know and ask for help. March, women's history month.

Prior to her arrival to RIT, alumna Mona Samaan-Ockenden BS '94 took a year off to explore a career in mechanical contracting. Mona graduated from RIT with a degree in Civil Engineering Technology. After graduation, she pursued a career in Civil Engineering. Mona landed a position with Clough Harbour & Associates (CHA), an international engineering consulting firm based in Albany. Mona started in traditional site development projects, then moved into a position as Senior Vice President of Business Development. She then moved into a Chief Operations Officer at Airosmith Development.After her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, Mona left her position as Vice President of Business Development to start a line of chemical-free beauty products. Since starting Mona Moon Naturals in 2019, she hasn't looked back.

Meet Mona

Black Heritage Month - Luticha André Doucette BS ’14

Luticha André Doucette BS ’14 graduated from RIT with a degree in bioinformatics, where she developed protein surface prediction algorithms. After graduating, she was a fellow at the University of Rochester where she worked in a genomics lab that focused on analyzing the venom of parasitoid wasps to develop new drug therapies for various diseases. In 2017 she authored a report on wage disparities across race, gender, and disability in Rochester and Monroe County in conjunction with the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative and in 2018 authored a follow-up report on employment barriers for disabled people in Rochester and Monroe County. She is a graduate of the Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) Fellowship program and an AUCD Emerging Leader. She is the owner of Catalyst Consulting, which helps organizations examine equity across race, gender identity, and disability in policies, practices, procedures, and relationships.

Meet Luticha

Native American Heritage Month - Naomi Lee, Ph.D., BS '05

Naomi Lee, PH.D., BS '05 November Native American Heritage Month Spotlight Build relationships with mentors that will guide you down your path. Mentors include peers, faculty, staff, etc. RIT has many great opportunities and mentors will help point you in the right direction.

Naomi Lee Ph.D., BS '05 (Seneca Nation of Indians) is a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Lee received a B.S. in biochemistry from Rochester Institute of Technology. She also completed an M.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Rochester. Her research focuses on novel peptide and protein-based vaccine development to target various infectious and chronic diseases. Dr. Lee also applies her expertise in biomedical research to improve the health care of Native Americans through health disparities research, STEM education, and mentoring. Due to her interdisciplinary research program, she is an affiliated faculty member to the NIH-funded Southwest Health Equity Research Collaborative (SHERC), the NIH-funded Native American Cancer Prevention (NACP) partnership, and NAU’s the Center for Materials Interfaces in Research and Applications (¡MIRA!). Finally, Dr. Lee continues to serve her country through service in the Army National Guard. She is currently a Captain in the Arizona 850th Military Police Battalion.

Meet Naomi

Latinx/Hispanic Month - Orlando Ortiz BS '04, MBA '08

Orlando Ortiz Headshot

Orlando Ortiz is currently manager of component manufacturing at The Gleason Works. Orlando has worked in a manufacturing environment for over 15 years, previously holding positions of continuous improvement manager at Calvary Automation Systems and director of engineering for Stone Construction Equipment. Orlando's community involvement extends to various community boards which include The Puerto Rican Festival, Inc (President), The Housing Council at PathStone (Board Chair), PathStone Corporation (Executive Committee Member), Foodlink, and has served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors since 2013 and is the current board Secretary. He also served on the university’s Strategic Planning Committee. In 2019, Orlando was recognized as the Hispanic Business Person of the Year by the Rochester Hispanic Business Association and co-recipient of the NextGen philanthropist of the year along with his wife Denishea Ortiz.

Meet Orlando