Category Archives: Faculty

No longer lost in translation: Videos depicting complex scientific concepts break barriers for deaf STEM students

On the left, a light skinned male in suit and tie, at right a light skinned female with long red hair in black sleeveless dress

Research has revealed that people who learn English as a second language, including deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, are underrepresented in STEM fields because of academic language abilities required to compete in those disciplines. A new project at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is helping to break down those obstacles specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

Researchers at RIT/NTID will create and test a solution that addresses the academic language barrier in physics by producing a comprehensive series of short, conceptually accurate, signed videos, each of which is focused on a singular physics concept. As part of this process, the team will vet and share conceptually accurate signs for technical vocabulary. The project is funded by a $295,000 grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

“Participation of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in STEM fields is limited due to the presence of significant academic language barriers,” confirmed principal investigator Jason Nordhaus, a theoretical astrophysicist and assistant professor at RIT/NTID. “In the college classroom, American Sign Language interpreters must choose the correct signs to indicate meaning of the concept being taught. At the same time, most interpreter training is focused on acquiring American Sign Language. It is rare for interpreters to be an expert in the language and STEM concepts. However, being experts in both is necessary to properly translate. Compounding the issue is a lack of conceptually accurate technical signs in STEM disciplines. Quite literally, information is lost in translation.”

Conceptual understanding will first be measured in RIT physics classrooms and then at two external partner universities. The result of the project will be a sustainable online repository where the videos are freely accessible and will be shared with national interpreting organizations and universities that have interpreter training programs.

“It is our hope that this project results in a template that can be repeated for any discipline, thereby permanently eliminating the academic language barrier and increasing deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals’ engagement in STEM disciplines,” said co-investigator Jessica Trussell, assistant professor in the Master of Science in Secondary Education for Students who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing teacher preparation program at RIT/NTID.

Nordhaus is committed to increasing the participation of deaf individuals in physics and routinely involves deaf students in research work, including 11 undergraduate students and one doctoral student, thus far. He serves on, and is a founding member of, the executive committee for the American Astronomical Society’s Working Group on Accessibility and Disability.

Trussell, a member of RIT/NTID’s Center for Education Research Partnerships, has 12 years of experience teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students from preschool age to adulthood. Her goal is to grow the number of deaf and hard-of-hearing people entering STEM fields by enhancing their discipline-based reading and writing skills.

RIT/NTID student Bobby Moakley and RIT’s James Myers to receive this year’s Alfred Davis awards

On left, a younger light-skinned male with brown hair and beard, on right an older light-skinned male with brown hair.

A graduating RIT/NTID student leader who has been engaged in public service, student government and environmental stewardship has been named a winner in this year’s Alfred L. Davis Distinguished Public Service Awards. Bobby Moakley, of Boston, a fourth-year environmental science major and graduate student in science, technology and public policy, will receive the 2019 Bruce R. James Award.

The awards will be given at a public ceremony at 4 p.m. Wednesday in University Gallery in Booth Hall.

Moakley, who serves as president of RIT Student Government, has been an avid participant in leadership and community service projects. Last month he participated in RIT’s Alternative Spring Break, traveling to Florida, where his group did disaster relief from Hurricane Michael and helped with coastline reparations.

Kaitlin Stack Whitney, visiting assistant professor in the Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences, submitted a nomination for Moakley, saying he used project opportunities in her class “to learn more about Rochester’s environment and human communities. He is a thoughtful and engaged student who wants to learn more about the world around him and seizes those opportunities. This work connects to his goals as a student and future professional – he works at the intersection of environmental and social justice issues.”

Moakley also has been a pioneering member of Into the ROC, an RIT program that connects students with city communities, learning experiences and service opportunities.

“Bobby is motivated by what connects people and changes the world,” Stack Whitney said. “He does so much community service to and for RIT because he’s committed to the campus people and to making this the best campus experience for everyone, not just himself. He clearly enjoys getting to think and do with so many people around campus—students, faculty, staff and administrators. Being a collaborator and succeeding at it, as a true peer—with those diverse teams helps remind him that he can do anything once he graduates.”

David Bagley, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, said Moakley, as Student Government president, “has already tackled several campus issues and has created a collaborative culture and positive environment. His personal experiences and passion for the Rochester area have greatly impacted his endeavors as an agent of public service. He truly understands the importance of public service and constantly identifies avenues/platforms to promote and assist others along his journey.”

He said Moakley’s passion for helping others and his natural abilities as an influencer “positively encourage other students to engage in public service. … I hold Bobby in the highest regard as he is always a role model to others in our community and exemplifies what a great student leader should be. We are lucky to have Bobby on our campus. He continues to be a strong voice and a positive change agent.

“It’s such an honor to receive this award and to be recognized for some of my public services,” Moakley said. “It further encourages me to continue serving the community and contributing my skills to those in need.”

Moakley will donate the $1,000 he earns from the award to the Ibero-American Development Corporation, which renovates and manages buildings and affordable homes in Rochester. He spent last summer working for them as an urban fellow.

Also receiving an award is a dedicated Rochester Institute of Technology administrator who helped expand RIT’s global presence as well as being an active community volunteer locally and in Haiti. James Myers, associate provost for International Education and Global Programs, will receive the 2019 Four Presidents Distinguished Public Service Award. Myers joined RIT in 1988 as an instructor in the School of Food, Hotel and Travel Management. He left RIT to obtain his doctorate in natural resource economics, and returned in 1999, when he became the first academic associate dean of RIT’s American College of Management and Technology in Croatia, and later professor and director of the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies. He currently is associate provost of International Education and Global Programs.

Myers has been an active community volunteer for more than 30 years. He is chairman of the board of directors for Haiti Outreach Pwoje Espwa (H.O.P.E.), a nonprofit organization that supports health, sanitation and economic development in a rural community in northern Haiti.

He also has been an active member in a marathon training program for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Western New York.

“Jim is widely recognized and highly respected across all of RIT’s campuses,” said International Student Services Director Jeffrey Cox in one of the nominations for the award. “Jim does not engage in any of these efforts for personal recognition or advancement, but is a true believer in trying to make the world a better place. He has a very big heart, but also applies a sharp intellect and creative and highly collaborative approaches to bringing about concrete solutions to vexing social issues – particularly in areas of the globe that are struggling to recover from war or natural disaster.”

Myers said winning the award is “humbling. I was honored to be nominated. I never imagined I’d ever receive it. I do this work because I love it, and the work itself is the reward I receive. That is why I do it.”

He also credits RIT for being “so supportive and generous for recognizing community service work.”

Myers will receive $2,500 as part of the award. He plans to give $2,000 of it to HOPE, and split the remainder between the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Cancer Wellness Center.

About the awards:

  • The Bruce R. James ’64 Award was named after James, chair emeritus of the RIT Board of Trustees. The award recognizes a student for exemplary public service within RIT and/or the wider Rochester community. Its purpose is to highlight one of RIT’s own hidden heroes while also encouraging other students to engage in public service.
  • The Four Presidents Distinguished Public Service Award Fund was created by Alfred L. Davis on the occasion of the 65th year of his association with RIT, to commemorate the dedication of the four RIT presidents with whom he worked, in their service to the Rochester community. The purpose of this award is to honor the four presidents, Mark Ellingson, Paul Miller, M. Richard Rose, and Albert Simone, with whom Mr. Davis served at RIT, and to recognize a current member of the faculty or staff who, through his/her public service, mirrors the lives of the four presidents, who have been not only outstanding professionals but also caring members of the community. Davis died in 2008.

RIT/NTID team examines Nicaraguan sign language to determine whether languages change so they are easier to produce or to understand

Light skinned male with very little hair, glasses and goatee wearing plaid shirt tie and tan sweater.

New research is helping scientists around the world understand what drives language change, especially when languages are in their infancy. The results will shed light on how the limitations of the human brain change language and provide an understanding of the complex interaction between languages and the human beings who use them.

The project is funded by a $344,000 National Science Foundation grant and is led by principal investigator Matthew Dye, an assistant professor and director of the Deaf x Laboratory at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

Dye and his research team are examining Nicaraguan Sign Language, which was “born” in the 1970s. Using machine learning and computer vision techniques, the team is looking at old video recording of the language and measuring how it has changed over the past 40 years. The recent birth and rapid evolution of Nicaraguan Sign Language has allowed them to study language change from the beginning, on a compressed time scale. They are asking whether languages change so they are easier to produce, or whether they change in ways that make them easier for others to understand. Initial results challenge a long-held notion that signs move toward the face in order to be easier to understand.

“Languages change over time, such that the way we speak English now is very different than the speech patterns of elder generations and our distant ancestors,” said Dye. “While it is well documented that languages change over time, we’re hoping to answer some fundamental theoretical questions about language change that cannot be addressed by simply analyzing historical samples of spoken languages.”

Dye explains that by using an existing database of Nicaraguan Sign Language, composed of 2D videos of four generations of Nicaraguan signers, his research team will be able to assess the extent to which linguistic changes occur and why. The team will also create computational tools that allow 3D human body poses to be extracted from the 2D videos.

Ultimately, these tools could be used to aid in the development of automated sign-language recognition, promoting accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and for developing automated systems for recognizing and classifying human gestures. In addition, Dye says that deaf and hard-of-hearing students will participate in the research, helping to increase the diversity of the nation’s scientific workforce.

“We are fortunate that our study enables us to utilize the visual nature of sign language to gain a greater understanding of how all languages may evolve,” adds Dye.

Co-principal investigators on the project are Corrine Occhino, research assistant professor at NTID; Andreas Savakis, professor, RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering; and Matt Huenerfauth, professor, RIT’s Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. The project is a collaboration with Naomi Caselli, assistant professor, Boston University, and Norm Badler, professor, University of Pennsylvania.

For more information, contact Vienna McGrain at 585-475-4952 or Vienna.Carvalho@rit.edu.

More than 3,000 celebrate at RIT/NTID’s 50th anniversary alumni reunion

Three alumni, two younger and one older, together smiling.

More than 3,000 alumni from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf visited campus June 28 –July 1 to celebrate at the college’s 50th anniversary alumni reunion.

The world’s first and largest technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students kicked off a year-long celebration of its 50-year history, which coincides with RIT’s move to the Henrietta, New York, campus.

Festivities began with an alumni golf tournament at Mill Creek Golf Club Thursday, June 28, and an opening ceremony that evening, hosted by alumnus and actor CJ Jones. Jones, who recently starred in the motion picture “Baby Driver” and will be featured in the upcoming James Cameron sequel, “Avatar 2.”

Other events and activities during the reunion weekend included a barbeque dinner, mini-reunions for current and former members of numerous clubs and organizations, including fraternities and sororities, and entertainment by popular alumni such as hip-hop artist Sean Forbes, ASL performance artist Rosa Lee Timm and actors Amber Zion, Kris Pumphrey and Daniel Durant, who most recently starred on Broadway in the revival of “Spring Awakening.”  

In addition to alumni from the college’s ‘pioneer’ class and founding faculty, four of RIT/NTID’s past leaders attended the reunion: founding director D. Robert Frisina; Robert Davila, the college’s first deaf leader; James J. DeCaro; and T. Alan Hurwitz. The college’s current leader, Gerard Buckley, is the first alumnus to lead the institution, which boasts more than 8,000 graduates.

The college’s Dyer Arts Center hosted an exhibition “50 Artists, 50 Years” featuring works by 50 RIT/NTID alumni artists along with the unveiling of a three-paneled mural, known as a triptych, entitled “Together” created by deaf artist Susan Dupor and commissioned for the 50th anniversary. “Together” portrays the flourishing life and history of the National Technical Institute of the Deaf over 50 years.

RIT/NTID Performing Arts and MSM Productions, Ltd. reprised the popular “The Wonderful World of Oz” in the college’s Panara Theatre for four special performances with proceeds to benefit the theater program.

Founded by an act of Congress in 1965, with the first class enrolled in 1968, NTID represents the first concerted effort to educate large numbers of deaf students within a college campus planned principally for hearing students. Among RIT's 18,000 full- and part-time students are nearly 1,100 deaf students from the United States and other countries.

NTID alumni have gone on to work and leadership positions in all areas of business, industry, government and non-profit sectors.

“We are thrilled that so many alumni from near and far joined us to celebrate 50 years of RIT/NTID,” Buckley said. “The sense of Tiger Pride was evident throughout the campus all weekend, and will leave an indelible impression on all of us who were in attendance.”

To commemorate the milestone, a book, “A Shining Beacon: Fifty Years of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf,” edited by RIT/NTID alumnus James K. McCarthy, has been published by RIT Press.

A photo gallery of the weekend's events can be found in here.

Former FCC head urges RIT graduates to humanize technology-driven changes

Two men and two women in graduation caps and gowns are smiling and taking a photo together. As new technology evolves, the challenge for graduating students is to figure out how it can benefit humanity. That was the message Thomas Wheeler, former director of the Federal Communications Commission, shared with graduates at Rochester Institute of Technology’s 133rd annual commencement in the Gordon Field House today. He was one of several people who spoke, including the president of Student Government and RIT President David Munson, who was attending his first graduation ceremony at RIT as president. “We have now evolved from the industrial era created by the railroad and telegraph into the information era, and we need a new set of rules,” Wheeler said. “That is the challenge you inherit today.” Wheeler said RIT graduates are better poised to accept the challenge of finding new uses for technology than other students because of RIT’s focus on blending technology and courses relating to the humanities. All RIT baccalaureate students take courses in liberal arts as part of their majors. “The education you received at this institution—whether in technology, business or the liberal arts—gives you a leg-up on most of your fellow citizens who struggle to understand the effects of new technology and the new economy,” Wheeler said. “It positions you to use your inherent goodness and your sense of fair play to attack the new challenges that work against such qualities. You graduate into a world that needs what you have learned about humanity as much as what you’ve learned about technology. You will have ample opportunity to put your hard-won insights and skills to work. I hope you will harness them, not just for the sake of technology per se, but also for the purpose of helping our society deal with the effects of that technology.” Wheeler said the world “needs people with an instinct to question, an interrogation that is anchored in an understanding of the human dynamic and stimulated by unbound imagination. We need citizens who want to deal with behavior, not just write code or a new business plan. Society calls out for innovators who see technology not in terms of controlling markets, but of expanding human potential. In that regard, I have always been impressed by what RIT has done to put the intersection of technology and humanity into practice.” He told the students it is time for them to look beyond using technology to create without consideration of the consequences. “It is time to rebuild a society and economy torn asunder by technology,” he said. “It is time to once again re-establish the interrelationship between technology and human values. You have been well-prepared to take on these challenges. What a privilege to be the ones tasked with dealing with these complex, technology-based, but very human problems. Grasp that challenge. Make it your own.” RIT conferred 4,747 degrees this academic year at all its campuses—including in Croatia, Dubai, Kosovo and China—and nearly 2,400 who received degrees at ceremonies today and Saturday in Henrietta. There were 23 students who earned Ph.D.s. Wheeler received an honorary doctoral degree from RIT Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeremy Haefner and Christine Whitman, chair of RIT’s Board of Trustees, for his exemplary public service, impressive entrepreneurial work and for championing the spirit of innovation and creativity that has impacted and inspired millions. RIT President Munson, who used American Sign Language at the beginning of his remarks, congratulated the students and said it was a special day for him as well, as he’s completing his first academic year at RIT. “The RIT family and Rochester community have welcomed Nancy and me with open arms as we have acclimated to our new surroundings,” Munson said. “We are amazed and impressed by the talent and devotion that surrounds us. This includes students, faculty, staff, alumni and our many university partners. Our transition has been wonderful and we thank you all for your support and kindness.” Munson said it was fun to watch the graduates during his first year leading RIT. “RIT has creative students who are so full of ideas,” he said. “And you have passion to implement those ideas. We are proud of all that you have accomplished in the years leading up to today.” Munson noted that the commencement was a new beginning, as graduates enter the workforce, graduate school or the military. “At RIT, we are confident you have received tremendous preparation from your education both inside and outside the classroom,” he said. “Many of you have engaged in, for example, wonderful co-op experiences or other forms of experiential learning. You are well prepared to undertake the rigors of the real world and get off to a fast start in your respective fields.” Munson also reminded them to become good citizens of the world. “It is my hope, graduates of the Class of 2018, that you wake up tomorrow not solely focused on how to earn a living, rather, that you go out and do your best to enrich the world,” he said. “During your time at RIT, you spent time forging relationships, working together in labs, collaborating on senior projects, traveling overseas, participating in student clubs, and offering service in center-city Rochester,” Munson said. “You didn’t do these things alone. That is why I know that you are prepared to contribute to conversations that will build our future, whether these conversations are more formal and organized, or at a coffee shop with a group of friends. Now is the time for neighbors and citizens to come together.” Student Government President Farid Barquet, a Mexico City native who is graduating magna cum laude with bachelor’s degrees in biotechnology and molecular biosciences and biomedical sciences, is on his way to graduate school. He recalled some memories from his years at RIT—seeing the Gene Polisseni Center open, experiencing the first snowstorm in years that cancelled classes, and RIT becoming a top 100 national university. “The experiences that we have shared at RIT have shaped who we are today, and despite our different journeys, we all leave RIT today as equals, as the graduating Class of 2018,” he said.

RIT/NTID honor society inducts 26 new members

Group of students, faculty, staff and President Buckley with EPT logo on screens behind them.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf inducted 26 new members into the Delta Xi chapter of the Epsilon Pi Tau honor society at a ceremony May 1.

Epsilon Pi Tau recognizes the academic excellence of students in fields devoted to the study of technology and the preparation of practitioners for the technology professions. Epsilon Pi Tau also extends the honor of membership to outstanding practitioners in the technology professions, to scholars, and/or to persons who have significantly supported or advanced technology professions.

With support from DeafTEC, an NSF-sponsored center at RIT/NTID providing resources for high schools and community colleges that educate deaf and hard-of-hearing students in STEM-related programs, the Delta Xi chapter of the honor society was established at RIT in 2015 for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in associate-level NTID technology programs. This chapter is the only chapter of Epsilon Pi Tau specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and the first NTID honor society.

“It is one of the highlights of the academic year to welcome our talented, hard-working students into the EPT honor society,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “It is a validation of their hours of studying and academic endeavors in and out of the classroom. They make their families and RIT/NTID proud.”

Student honorees include:

  • Miko A. Arayata of Quezon City, Philippines; arts and imaging studies
  • Megan L. Armstrong of Webster, New York; laboratory science technology
  • Cassandra Banania of Chino Hills, California; arts and imaging studies
  • Courtney S. Boyer of Decatur, Georgia;  computer-aided drafting technology
  • Taher A Chowdhury of Ozone Park, New York; accounting technology
  • Gabriella L. Ertle of Aliso Viejo, California; management information systems
  • Demeisha A. Heath of Brooklyn, New York; business technology
  • Macee R. Helmick of West Henrietta, New York; business technology
  • Phillip Ho of San Jose, California; computer-aided drafting technology
  • Israelle S. Johnson of Baltimore, Ohio; laboratory science technology
  • Otto Kingstedt of Washington, D.C. and Stockholm, Sweden; arts and imaging sciences
  • Abbigail J. Kolar of Kearney, Nebraska; business
  • Ping Liu of Harbin, China; applied computer technology
  • Dulce Mireles of Enigma, Georgia; arts and imaging sciences
  • Aaron Parker of Lakewood, Ohio; mobile application development
  • Philip Pham of San Jose, California; 3D graphics technology
  • Victoria Pon of Queens, New York; arts and imaging studies
  • Mark L. Redekas of Manchester, Connecticut; applied computer technology
  • Kathryn Richer of North Syracuse, New York, computer-aided drafting technology
  • Sabrina L. Serna of Lake View Terrace, California; laboratory science technology
  • Signe Tarmey of Charlestown, New Hampshire; laboratory science technology
  • Michael Wentland of Lynnwood, Washington; applied mechanical technology
  • Mia C. White of Littleton, Colorado; business accounting

Faculty honorees include:

  • Mitchell R. Bacot, instructional/support faculty, NTID Science and Mathematics Department
  • Edward Mineck, interim chairperson, NTID Visual Communication Studies Department
  • Mark J. Pfuntner, chairperson, NTID Business Studies Department

 

 

 

RIT lecturer Eric Kunsman receives 2018 Edline M. Chun Award

light skinned male and female with small boy and girl. man is holding a clear glass award.

Eric Kunsman, a lecturer for the Visual Communications Studies Department in RIT's National Technical Institute for the Deaf and an adjunct professor for the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences (CIAS), is the fifth recipient of the Edline M. Chun Award for Outstanding Teaching and Service.

Named in honor of the late RIT adjunct professor Edline Chun, the award has been given annually since 2014 to a CIAS adjunct faculty member who exemplifies excellence and dedication in teaching and who has given outstanding service to a CIAS-affiliated school and to the college.

“This award means a lot to me since I knew and admired Edline, and I know what it represents,” said Kunsman, who also owns Booksmart Studio, a fine art digital printing studio in Rochester, N.Y., specializing in innovative techniques and services for photographers and book artists. “Owning my own business, I know the importance of staying relevant and passionate in the industry, and I try to bring that excitement to the classroom.”

Before coming to RIT in 2000, Kunsman, a native of Bethlehem, Pa., was an assistant professor at Mercer County Community College, where he also served as the coordinator of the photography program. He has led national workshops on photography and digital printing. He holds an MFA in book arts/printmaking from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and an MS in electronic publishing/graphic arts media, a BS in biomedical photography and BFA in fine art photography, all from RIT.

In addition, Kunsman’s photographs and books have been exhibited internationally and can be seen on display in several prominent collections throughout the United States.

“Eric is a dedicated and passionate member of the SPAS team who exemplifies all of the qualities of an outstanding faculty member,” said Therese Mulligan, administrative chair of SPAS. “Whether he’s teaching students or playing a key role in SPAS initiatives such as the signature RIT Big Shot, Eric brings real-world industry knowledge to the classroom combined with a sincere interest in helping students learn the material and succeed in their careers.”

Ms. Chun was a well-respected and beloved faculty member who taught in CIAS for nearly two decades. Her colleagues in RIT’s School of Media Sciences described her as someone who “always went above and beyond to serve the students and the school with passion, integrity and the utmost class.”

Researchers at NTID demonstrate accessible rower at Imagine RIT festival

Male student with beard and glasses writes on a clipboard while working on rowing skull.

As part of Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival, researchers at NTID’s Center on Access Technology will demonstrate an accessible rower that enables deaf and hard-of-hearing rowers to follow verbal coxswain instructions during competitions. Festival visitors can sit in a canoe and test their reflex response times by using a game pad to reply to visual cues displayed on a smartphone.       

The idea for the accessible rower came about in 2016, with the addition of a deaf rower to the RIT men’s rowing team roster, with the possibility of other deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes joining the squad. In rowing competitions, rowers are required to follow commands from the coxswain, who determines the speed of the boat.

According to Wendy Dannels, a research faculty member in NTID’s Center on Access Technology and one of the project coordinators, the solution provides a visual display showing transcription and/or illustration of the coxswain’s commands. The application was developed to help the athletes synchronize with the coxswain by using a custom Automatic Speech Recognition engine. The engine is offline so the deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes can utilize the technology without internet connection.

In addition to Dannels, project team members are Steven McClusky, a fourth-year software engineering student from Blue Springs, Mo.; Joseph Stanislow, instructional/support faculty member, NTID Information and Computing Studies; and Brian Trager, associate director of the NTID Center on Access Technology.

Deaf undergrads from across the country to conduct research at RIT/NTID this summer

Light skinned male and female in lab coats, safety goggles and blue gloves work on science experiments.

For eight weeks this summer, Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf will be home to the first all-deaf cohort of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), bringing deaf and hard-of-hearing students from across the country together to do research. 

The cohort of three RIT/NTID students, and one student each from the University of California, Berkeley; Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida; Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.; Ohlone College in Freemont, California; Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio and Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon, includes six women and three men, all of whom are deaf or hard-of-hearing. 

“Students were selected in a competitive process on the basis of who showed strong potential for research and fit in well with our current projects,” said Bonnie Jacob, assistant professor in the mathematical modeling program. “The projects are all from science and math, and include graph theory, astrophysics, biochemistry and analytical chemistry this year. There have been other REUs that invite one, two or a few deaf students each year, but we are the first REU to host a full cohort of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.” 

A Research Experience for Undergraduates program generally runs in the summer for eight to 10 weeks. Undergraduate students come from different universities, along with some from the home university, to be immersed in a research experience with guidance from a faculty mentor. 

This particular REU is a three-year award from the NSF, and will run for three summers, with the grant totaling $303,000. Students are paid a stipend, receive housing and some meal support and travel. They also have an opportunity to present their research at a conference. In addition to the research experience, RIT/NTID is adding writing coaching, a research boot camp that involves mathematical and scientific training and professional development sessions tailored specifically to students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. They also will have presentations by invited guests. 

“REUs are exciting programs because faculty mentors and students work side-by-side on original research,” Jacob said. “The opportunity to simultaneously make scientific discoveries while watching the students transform themselves into researchers is awesome. A full-time research experience over the summer often is a critical part of an undergraduate student’s preparation to go to graduate school or enter a career in a scientific or mathematical field. We are very excited about our group of students this year: they come from all over the country, have a diverse set of backgrounds, and also have a variety of career goals. They will come together this summer with the common thread of being undergraduate students who are deaf or hard of hearing and are eager to do science and math research. Several students have told me that they’re excited about the program. I know I am!” 

For more on the project, visit the RIT/NTID REU website: https://people.rit.edu/bcjntm/REU.html.

RIT/NTID Student Research Fair touts cutting-edge work of undergraduate, graduate students

African-American female with short hair and glasses wearing a grey shirt standing in front of a poster.

Joan Bempong, a fifth-year BS/MS computer engineering student from Irving, Texas, believes that deaf women who use American Sign Language exhibit disparities in health literacy when compared to hearing women. She says limited health literacy may be caused by inaccessibility of mainstream information and healthcare services, as well as family communication difficulties. As a result, ineffective dissemination of health information also may have a significant impact upon deaf women’s mental and physical health. She hopes that her research will help develop a comprehensive framework for understanding how such health disparities occur and what steps can be taken to improve quality of life.

Abraham Glasser, a third-year computer science student from Rochester, N.Y., and Emily Lederman, a second-year computer science student from Morgantown, W.V., are using mathematical equations to determine worst-case scenarios for monitoring electric power networks. They hope one day their research will save power companies and consumers a lot of money.

On April 13, Bempong, Glasser and Lederman joined 61 other deaf and hard-of-hearing student researchers at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s Student Research Fair in Rosica Hall. The event gives undergraduate and graduate students, in partnership with faculty mentors, the opportunity to present posters or give demonstrations on topics related to health science, communication studies, access technology and environmental research, among others.

Todd Pagano, associate dean for teaching and scholarship excellence and founding director of NTID’s Laboratory Science Technology program, is among the coordinators of the research fair. Pagano said the research fair is unique because of the training that is offered to students ahead of time on writing and editing abstracts, designing research posters and presenting research to audiences.

“The projects we’re seeing are very sophisticated and diverse with a good mix of high-level science, math, healthcare and access technology research,” said Pagano. “We send many of our students to professional conferences to present their work, but the pinnacle of the experience for students often is having their research published. And a lot of what is seen here at the research fair has already been published.”

Musab Al-Smadi, a fourth-year software engineering student from Jordan, also presented his research. He is working on an inclusive mobile app using Near Field Communication that will enable deaf and hard-of-hearing museumgoers to fully explore their surroundings without facing barriers having to do with obtaining information about exhibits. For example, according to Al-Smadi, many museums offer visitors paper transcripts with exhibit descriptions. However, using transcripts can be inconvenient for patrons with varying levels of vision ability, or frustrating for those for whom English is a second language. The new app can be used on Android and iOS platforms and includes a keypad where users can type in the ID number of the exhibit to get the information or use their devices to hover over QR codes.

“Being able to work with faculty on relevant research has been a very positive experience,” said Al-Smadi. “We’re taking concepts that we’ve learned in the classroom and developing them even further for applications like this.”

Heather Smith, director of the NTID Motion Lab and senior lecturer in the 3D graphics technology program, creates and applies innovative projects using motion-capture technologies for product development, research and scholarship. She is working with a team of students to use motion capture to build an interactive, visual storytelling app with 360-degree views, animation, bilingual literacy and gaming. The app, Deaf Pioneer, teaches history dating back to the late 1800s and allows users to fully immerse themselves in the story.

“I am very fortunate to be a faculty member who works closely with deaf, hard of hearing and hearing students on their research projects,” said Smith. “I feel honored being part of their research journey as I share my wealth of knowledge and fuel them to fly higher and discover what is in store for them in the future. I try to become their mentor and their ally."

Bempong emphasized the quality of her research experience. “It has been a phenomenal experience. Given that I am a computer engineering student graduating with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, this research was fascinating in that it was completely different from my field of study. Because of the mentorship of Professor Deirdre Schlehofer, I was able to gain qualitative research skills, as well as more awareness about my own community and recognize the need to improve health literacy among us.”

The Student Research Fair is funded by the NTID Office of the President and jointly sponsored by the Associate Dean for Teaching and Scholarship Excellence and the Associate Dean of Research.