Imagine RIT offers more than you can imagine

What started as an experiment has become a signature exhibition attracting thousands to RIT

Scott Hamilton/RIT

Imagine RIT: Creativity and Innovation Festival will be held 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 27. It will feature more than 2,850 exhibitors with nearly 400 exhibits. Admission and parking are free. Rochester Regional Health is a premier sponsor of this year’s festival.

The annual Imagine RIT: Creativity and Innovation Festival is a huge, campus-wide community event that showcases the artistic and inventive spirit of Rochester Institute of Technology students, faculty, and staff.

Visitors of all ages experience the breadth and depth of RIT through interactive presentations, hands-on demonstrations, prototype debuts, exhibitions, performing arts, and research projects.

Where else can you see a human hamster wheel, moving rides in miniature theme parks, glass blowing, juggling, music and dance, robots and rockets, groundbreaking technology, dynamic art displays, biomedical advances, new engineering concepts, a floating concrete canoe, computing, sustainability, and so much more, all in the same place?

The festival features more than 2,850 exhibitors with nearly 400 exhibits spread throughout the RIT campus. If you want to visit each one you’d only have roughly 63 seconds to do so. That’s why visitors should check out the festival’s website prior to attending to plan their visit. Exhibits are categorized by subject and location, and may be searched by topic. This feature will be active April 8.

“Imagine RIT is a unique opportunity for our students to share their passion with our community and the greater Rochester and Western New York region,” said Ann Ielapi, senior director for events and conferences. “Any RIT student can participate, regardless of their degree program, year at RIT, as well as RIT faculty or staff members. There are no prerequisites to participate.”

Some of the exhibits are the culmination of class projects. Some have been startup businesses, and some are demonstrations or performances from student clubs. There are many hands-on, interactive opportunities to experience, and often, you may take your creation home.

Among the visitors are prospective employers, who are always wowed as they quietly look for talented prospective employees. Several sponsors who have collaborated with students in their Multidisciplinary Senior Design projects also come to the festival to be with their student teams and exhibits.

This year will also feature 28 exhibits in the new SHED (Student Hall for Exploration and Development). Another popular feature in recent years is the Futurists Symposium, where acclaimed and accomplished RIT alumni share the spotlight in a panel discussion about their careers and what is on the horizon for the industries of technologies, the arts, and design.

Admission, parking, even shuttle bus service to and from Monroe Community College that Saturday are all free.

Imagine RIT was originally dreamt up by President Emeritus Bill Destler. He wanted a space to show off the work being done by students, faculty, and staff to the Rochester community, possibly getting individuals on campus for the first time.

His executive assistant, Barry Culhane, became festival chairman and brought the concept to life with the help of many people.

"With eight months to go and a hodgepodge lodge of volunteers...we started working on it day and night," said Culhane, who died in 2022. "Literally day and night the first year. It wasn't easy. Pulling together an unprecedented campus-wide festival in eight months was a challenge, but the campus rose to it. On May 3, 2008, some 17,500 visitors came to campus to see what RIT had to offer.”

Since then, tens of thousands of visitors have flocked to the RIT campus one Saturday each spring, usually two weeks prior to that year’s graduation. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, the festival was forced to go online, but that allowed exhibits from RIT’s global campuses to participate, virtually, for the first time.

In 2023, the first in-person exhibits from the RIT campuses in Dubai, Kosovo, and Croatia, were featured at the festival, and students from those campuses now fly in to Rochester to participate.

Although visitors of all ages enjoy the festival, organizers hope the exhibits will inspire the next generation with possibilities, and what they may want to pursue at college, and for a career.

In the “life cycle” of an Imagine RIT participant, prospective middle school and high school students attend the festival and consider applying to RIT. As an admitted first-year student, they would learn how other students are getting involved with the festival through exhibiting or volunteering.

Second- and third-year students then exhibit as individuals, in teams, or with their club, allowing them to showcase their work and add it as an accomplishment to their resume.

And fourth- and fifth-year students may look for opportunities to lead an Imagine RIT exhibit team, displaying leadership skills and further building their resume. This would also allow them to showcase their skills to community members who may be involved in hiring RIT graduates.

And it’s working.

Andrew Bovenzi, of Mendon, N.Y., has attended Imagine RIT since he can remember, but was a bit disappointed there wasn’t much about dinosaurs, his passion.

“That would later fuel my drive to create my own exhibition that would focus around prehistoric animals,” he said. “While I’m not studying to become a paleontologist, my passion in the subject greatly impacts my drive to create art where dinosaurs play a focus.”

He’s now a second-year RIT student in the School of Individualized Study, and is leading his second exhibit at the festival this year, with a life-sized art display of “Hadrosaurs, Iguanodonts, and other Ornithopod dinosaurs.”

“While they are not as popular as other groups like tyrannosaurs or ceratopsians, there is still so much to their history, biology, and legacy that can be explored,” Bovenzi said. “Anyone who attends will be able to view many pieces of art created by RIT students, including 30 different species of ornithopod dinosaurs that are accurately scaled to each other, not to forget a human model to compare to.”

He imagined it. And it became reality for him.

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