Gifts in Action: A Donor Newsletter January 2021


Thanks to your generous support, RIT’s students, faculty, and staff are transforming the world around us. Here are a few stories to illustrate how your philanthropy makes a significant impact.

Scholar Spotlight: Clayton Terry BS '21

Clayton headshot

Clayton Terry BS ’21, is a fifth-year student majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He is the recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Kate Gleason College of Engineering Alumni Endowed Scholarship. Established in September 2004, this fund provides merit awards annually to students in the College. Selection for this scholarship is based on the recipient’s enrollment as a full-time student, and recipients must also demonstrate outstanding leadership abilities, and be in good academic standing. Clayton not only meets but exceeds these requirements, as can be seen through his involvement in the classroom, on campus, and beyond. 

Outside of the classroom, Clayton served as a Resident Advisor. Clayton is also a member of the Space Exploration Club, a student manager at the RIT Library, and a volunteer at the Rochester Public Market with Flower City Pickers. He interned at M/E Engineering in their HVAC department and spent this past summer at GE Aviation for his second and final co-op. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clayton’s internship was modified but it was a positive experience overall. “I was really nervous at the prospect of a virtual internship feeling unfulfilling, but the opportunity was incredibly educational and allowed me to network with people across GE Aviation and with other interns throughout the world,” Clayton expressed. GE Aviation organized an Intern Academy for all students who had accepted a position with them, in place of an in-person co-op. It was four weeks long, and the first three weeks covered the culture at GE, aviation engineering, and supply chain. The fourth week was a business simulation, where Clayton and a team of seven other interns were expected to go through the process of designing and introducing a new product. Clayton and his team picked what type of jet engine to pursue, where in the world it would be manufactured, what theoretical suppliers would be used, and more. Clayton served as design co-lead on the team, and was responsible for all the calculations that went into designing the engine, including fuel consumption and thrust.

When asked about his favorite thing at RIT, Clayton replied, “the diversity of the school. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I value the effort to always be an inclusive campus. Having the opportunity to interact with students and faculty from all different backgrounds, and with varying perspectives on life, has been a highlight of college for me.”

Scholar Spotlight: Caleb Harris BS '23

Caleb Christopher Harris BS ’23, is a Saunders College of Business student majoring in Management Information Systems. He is the recipient of two endowed scholarships made possible by gifts from generous donors. He states that his favorite thing about RIT is “the constant encouragement and amazing faculty. I truly love the fact that they’re so supportive of us on our journey into the next phase of our lives. It is inspiring and encouraging to have mentors like these watching out for us.”

Caleb is an active member of Unity House and is involved in several research opportunities, including an African American leadership development project. His proudest achievements as an undergraduate student are making the Dean's List and being accepted into the Honors Program. Post-graduate plans include expanding the business he recently founded, Mercuri Brand, as well as pursuing a career in marketing.

Caleb is grateful for the generous donor support that has provided him with the opportunity to attend RIT. He hopes that “one day I can give back in a way to show my appreciation but for now I would like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are truly a blessing to me, my family, and my future.”

Caleb Harris BS '23 headshot

Student Athletes Follow Their Dreams

Baylee Hockey photo

Thanks to donor support, Baylee Trani BS ’21, had the opportunity to continue her education while participating in a sport she loves. As a four-year member of the RIT’s Women’s Hockey Team, Baylee is the first hard-of-hearing Division 1 athlete at RIT. She expresses that the most rewarding aspect of playing hockey has been “being treated like family by the team, and not feeling like an outsider.” However, her experience has not come without challenges, as Baylee is unable to wear her hearing aids on the ice. This makes following instructions difficult at times, and so she must rely on cues from her teammates and follow their lead.

Baylee is a recipient of the Pulver Family Endowed Scholarship and the Max Factor Family Foundation Endowed Scholarship Fund. She has also received support from Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Through this program, Baylee has received assistance with notetaking, captioning services, and RIT’s interpreter service. The captioning services have been especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many classes have transitioned to online learning. RIT’s athletic programs have also been impacted by the pandemic. From receiving COVID tests multiple times each week, to forming small social bubbles with teammates for practice, the pandemic has forced RIT’s athletes to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. The team’s approach is to play each game like it’s their last, not knowing when further restrictions may be implemented.                                                                           

Baylee expressed gratitude to RIT donors by saying “I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I truly would not be here if it wasn't for the generosity and the kindness that you have shown. I have been given an opportunity, which has allowed me to become a better student, grow as an athlete, and mature into this young adult where anything is possible.”                                                                                               
Skip Flanagan, NTID Athlete Program Development Coordinator, also weighed in on the impact of scholarships on NTID’s athletic program, and the positive effect that receiving a scholarship has on students. “The concept that it takes a community to raise a child also applies to student development. It takes a community to grow a student. Scholarships demonstrate that donors believe in that student, and scholarship support allows for growth, and gives the student more confidence and accountability.” Skip, who has known Baylee for the past four years, has seen her grow in numerous ways – academically, professionally, personally, and athletically.

Outside of the classroom and RIT’s athletics program, Baylee completed an internship at the YMCA and held a job at Autism Learning Partners. She is currently completing her application for RIT’s School Psychology MS program, and hopes to become a middle or high school counselor. 

RIT’s Spectrum Support Program Prepares Students for Professional Success

The Spectrum Support Program (SSP) provides innovative support that positively impacts the college experience for RIT students, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders. The program is committed to helping students build the connections to RIT that will assist them in achieving academic, social, and career success. Since its inception in 2008, enrollment in the SSP has increased significantly and now serves up to 100 students each year. 

The SSP fosters growth and independence in areas such as wellness and self-care, social connection, academic planning, career planning, and self-determination and self-advocacy. Enrolled students receive support through one-on-one coaching, small group seminars, collaboration with cross-campus partners, referrals to on-campus resources, access to RIT’s neurodiverse hiring initiatives and more. 

Tim Tills BS ’21, is a Computing and Information Science student majoring in Web and Mobile Computing. Tim is enrolled in the Spectrum Support Program (SSP) and has had great success in many of the services and programs offered. Tim has benefited greatly from the one-on-one coaching program. Each semester Tim is assigned a coach, who meets with him weekly to discuss difficulties, manage deadlines, set goals for the semester, and reflect on progress. 

SSP helped Tim find his co-op position this past summer, through networking opportunities and job skill development. Tim described his co-op at SAS Analytics and Software Solutions as one of his most rewarding experiences at RIT. Due to the pandemic, the co-op was modified to a remote position, but fortunately Tim was still able to complete his internship as a software developer. Tim’s responsibilities included working on a full-stack application, which is his exact area of interest and within his comfort zone. Tim explained that “once I got started with making branches and merge requests, I was able to immediately contribute, and my confidence skyrocketed. I was able to complete all tasks assigned to me really quickly and came up with some contributions on my own.” Tim really enjoy working at this job, and was offered a year-round part-time internship after his co-op ended.

Tim Tills expressed gratitude to SSP donors, explaining that “college would have been a much more difficult experience for me without the Spectrum Support Program. There's a lot of change and stress and moving parts, and it can get really overwhelming. The Spectrum Support Program has helped keep college manageable and has directly led to the success I experience in the classroom, in the workplace, and in my life in general.”

Tim Tills BS '21

Legacy Giving: We Believe in the Power of Giving

A decade after retiring from RIT’s leadership ranks, Dr. Fred Smith and his wife, Jo Anne, say that RIT continues to amaze them.

“RIT’s unique history and its rise to its current position in higher education have been something to watch,” says Dr. Smith. “It’s been even better to be part of it.”

The family’s connections include Dr. Smith’s roles as the first Vice President of Student Affairs and as Secretary of the Institute and Jo Anne Smith’s advocacy as part of the RIT Women’s Council which works to connect RIT to the Rochester community and build a strong scholarship program for women.

Dr. Smith retired more than 10 years ago but continues to believe in the importance of student support and student life initiatives. He and Jo Anne considered if they could do more to support the university’s national growth and stature by making a gift through their will. They decided to commit to three areas that are meaningful to them and important to the university:

  • Scholarships – The Smiths have given generously to various RIT scholarship funds for years, and committed to additional support in their estate plans. They are long-term supporters of the Destler/Johnson Rochester City Scholars program, which provides academically qualified students from city schools the opportunity to attend RIT.
  • Tiger Spirit – The Tiger Spirit Endowed Leadership Fund in Student Affairs provides an annual award recognizing a student who has contributed to the improvement of student life, tradition, pride, and spirit.
  • Student-Athlete Leadership – The Smiths established the Louis W. Spiotti Student Athlete Endowed Leadership Fund to both recognize the outstanding work of RIT’s long-time athletic director, Lou Spiotti, and to support the development and celebration of student-athlete leaders through leadership programming, awards, and events.

Through their gifts, the Smiths will continue to be advocates for RIT’s students for decades to come.

Fred and Jo Anne Smith

Thank you to our philanthropic community

The RIT Philanthropic Community is comprised of alumni, parents, faculty, staff, students, foundations, and businesses who make annual, leadership, lifetime, and legacy gifts to the university.

Beginning in 2021, we will recognize our leadership level donors who make a five-year pledge to support RIT in the newly established Sentinel Society. Together, these donors play a pivotal role in providing unrestricted gifts that provide scholarship aid and fund RIT’s most pressing and immediate needs across campus. To find out how to become a founding member, please visit

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