Rochester Institute of Technology’s work to establish a diverse and inclusive environment earned two awards from national organizations this fall. For the second year in a row, RIT is being honored as an institution committed to diversity for 2018 by Minority Access, Inc. RIT also is receiving a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from "INSIGHT into Diversity" magazine for the fifth consecutive year. More.
Rochester Institute of Technology student Jim Heaney started his rapid manufacturing and prototyping business when he was just 14 years old. Five years later, and with the guidance of RIT’s Saunders Summer Startup Program, Heaney and his team are hoping a successful pitch to potential investors will take their business to the next level.
Heaney’s business, Venator Technologies, is among 15 student start-up companies in the program, which encourages multidisciplinary student teams to jumpstart their ventures at the small-business launch pad in hopes of kick starting real companies. It culminates with Investor Demo Night, which will be held at 6 p.m. on Aug. 8 in Ingle Auditorium, Student Alumni Union. A networking reception immediately follows. The event is free and open to the public.
Creating a backpack that suits the packing needs of today’s gamers, solving mass refrigeration concerns on Sub-Saharan farms, and developing a wearable device and mobile app that helps veterans transition into civilian life are a few of the uniquely innovative early-stage business ideas created by student teams during this year’s program.
The program is sponsored by Saunders College of Business and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and is hosted by the Albert J. Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Throughout the summer, each of the startups is offered a stipend, a team expense fund, working space in Institute Hall and support from RIT faculty, assigned mentors and community business leaders.
Heaney, a second-year industrial engineering major from Montgomery, N.Y., says that his experience with the Saunders Summer Startup Program has helped him develop confidence in his business and has moved his team ahead of the pack.
“Even though my business is somewhat established, this program has provided my team with details on the finer points of business including access to countless business contacts, information on marketing and research and development funding, and tips on effective public speaking and pitching to investors, which are all so invaluable to running a successful business,” said Heaney. “Thanks to the top-notch mentoring that we’ve received from our entrepreneurship coaches and the staff at The Construct at RIT, we have learned how to create a solid foundation for our business.”
This summer’s student teams are:
- Sniffy: A mobile app that improves the relationship between humans and animals by providing incentives for dog walking, and information on pet stores, groomers and other dog owners.
- Op-Sixx: A support network comprised of wearable devices and a mobile app that connects veterans and their families to help them transition into civilian life.
- OurDiet App: An easy-to-follow direct resource offering personalized information based off of an individual’s self-described disease database.
- Phase Innovations LLC: Provides novel stack-based technologies for energy conversion and storage applications.
- TERP (two student teams): Aims to become a central marketplace for sign language interpreting services, making it easier for deaf and hearing people to submit interpreter requests.
- PAL: A wearable technology company that empowers the autism spectrum disorder community with early notification of triggered meltdowns.
- QuickTix: Allows small, independent theaters and school districts to publish events, sell tickets and promote on social media. Immediate feedback is provided on sales numbers, money earned and seats filled.
- Project Object Tracker: Provides tracking software that enhances customer service by evaluating the position of customers in retail stores and calculating whether the customer has been waiting too long for service.
- Venator Technologies: A multi-service manufacturing company utilizing 3D printing and laser cutting to serve small businesses and individual customers.
- SerVu: Provides a platform that connects bar owners with potential bar employees that fit the culture and style of the establishments.
- Hive Refrigeration: Works to solve the issue of mass refrigeration and the reduction of food waste on Sub-Sharan farms for those lacking access to cold storage refrigeration.
- Backpack for Gamers: Creates a backpack that suits the needs of modern-day gamers.
- VeeTV: A video streaming service that offers programming with sign-language content
- Tiger CGM: A glucose monitor designed to provide comfort, freedom, confidence, privacy and accuracy.
For more information on the Saunders Summer Startup, go to www.rit.edu/research/simonecenter/saunders-summer-start-program.
RIT/NTID's Brianna Schlitt ’11, ’13 (psychology, professional studies) and Brynjar Leifsson ’11, ’13 (multidisciplinary studies, deaf education) thought it was love at first sight when they met on the RIT campus in 2009. But they later learned they had attended the same elementary school, shared some of the same teachers and even ate lunch together there.
“People don’t believe that we had met when we were little kids and then met again 15 years later,” said Schlitt. “It’s pretty surreal.”
Schlitt and Leifsson were married on July 13 on Long Island, N.Y.
Schlitt was in kindergarten when she went to a school in East Meadow, N.Y., and Leifsson was in second grade. The two were from different parts of Long Island but at that time, Schlitt said, some of the deaf and hard-of-hearing children attended one school.
They were only together for one year. After kindergarten, Schlitt transitioned to the public school in her district.
Fast forward to 2009 and Schlitt decided she wanted to transfer to RIT after attending James Madison University and Long Island University Post. Leifsson had been a student at RIT since 2005.
Schlitt was visiting RIT and attended a party with a friend. Leifsson was there.
“How do you like somebody after meeting them for an hour?” Schlitt said. But when she ran into Leifsson again two days later, she knew she was smitten. So was Leifsson.
“I first saw her and I thought she is the one,” he said. “But I didn’t think it was possible. I can’t get someone this beautiful.”
They exchanged numbers and kept in touch over the summer before they were both on campus.
A year later they attended a meeting about deaf and hard-of-hearing services on Long Island and they ran into an audiologist who knew them both.
“She was like, ‘How do you guys know each other. You were in the same school when you were little and I had both of you guys,’” Schlitt said. “She couldn’t believe how life brought us back together.”
The couple has been together ever since.
Leifsson works as an American Sign Language teacher on Long Island and Schlitt is a lawyer who will begin a job later this year as an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County.
Leifsson proposed on April 13, 2017, when they were visiting his native Iceland. He popped the question at the top of the Snaefellsjökull glacier overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
“I had to go over the top,” Leifsson said. “She had been waiting eight long years for me to propose. I had to make it amazing, and it’s my favorite place to be.”
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, is it really happening?’ Of course, I said, ‘Yes,’” Schlitt said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
RIT/NTID's Connor Draughn wanted to get out of his comfort zone and try something new, so the hospitality and tourism management major decided to spend a semester studying at RIT Croatia.
“I learned a lot about myself,” said Draughn, who is from Raleigh, N.C. “For sure it is a highlight of my time at RIT.”
Draughn was helped by the Constellation Brands Study Abroad Fund, which supports hospitality students who want to study in Croatia.
Ginny Clark, senior vice president of Public Affairs for Constellation Brands, said given the importance of global learning, Constellation felt that this opportunity for RIT students would be a meaningful way to give back.
“Today’s business world is global—and the key to a successful global business is building strong, trusted relationships,” said Clark ’06, ’08 (hospitality and service management, service leadership and innovation). “Constellation believes that creating this scholarship opportunity for students to study abroad supports the experiential educational efforts that RIT sees as a critical component to a student’s education.”
Supporting hospitality students, Clark added, made sense for Constellation Brands, which is a global beverage alcohol company—but at its core is a hospitality company.
“It was quite natural that Constellation would see a strong connection with our philanthropy and the School of International Hospitality and Service Innovation,” she said.
Draughn, who got his associate degree in hospitality and services management from NTID in 2016, started pursuing a bachelor’s degree last year. He spent the fall semester of 2017 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, taking hospitality and tourism classes. He is minoring in history, he said, so he enjoyed living in the historic city and learning about the culture and the country.
After he graduates from RIT, Draughn said, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism. He hopes to one day become a travel coordinator for a professional sports team or for a Fortune 500 company.
The study abroad experience had such an impact on Draughn that after he returned, he got a job as a Global Ambassador coaching other RIT students about opportunities abroad.
“I like helping people,” Draughn said. “I like telling other students about my experience so they will think about doing something different while they are in school.”
Third-year design and imaging technology student Miko Arayata, from the Philippines, was presented with the 2018 Student Beacon Award. Arayata was commended for being an outstanding student leader at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, most recently, as vice president for Asian Deaf Club. Arayata has served as a student ambassador and been influential in promoting and attaining a working relationship with Discovering Deaf Worlds, a non-profit organization that focuses on enhancing self-determination, empowerment and leadership of deaf individuals from different countries.
The annual Student Beacon Awards are presented to students who utilize their leadership skills by fostering diversity and inclusion within the RIT community and demonstrate a balance of academic and co-curricular excellence.
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
Growing up in foster care, Maya Penn was surrounded by people who understood the value of sharing and caring for others. Just one month after Penn graduates with her bachelor’s degree in psychology from RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, she will fulfill her own personal quest for serving others with the Peace Corps in Africa.
Penn, who is deaf, is eagerly anticipating her two-year assignment— teaching deaf children in Ghana.
“This will be a time of significant personal growth for me,” said Penn, who hails from the Bay Area in California. “And I’m just looking forward to impacting the lives of so many children, where there is such a need.”
Although Penn admits that she didn’t know much about the Peace Corps before applying, she knew that she wanted to travel and was hooked when she discovered that there were positions for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to work in schools for those who are deaf. After videophone conversations with Peace Corps volunteers and administrators, Penn applied, interviewed and was accepted into the program.
Penn says that this experience is a “big step” for her, and she is eager to learn as much as she can about different cultures. And even though she’s a bit nervous, she believes her related experiences as a teaching assistant in a school for deaf children, her work at summer camps and at RIT’s Margaret’s House child care center, and her experience tutoring American Sign Language will also contribute to her success in Africa.
And she’s no stranger to traveling in not-so-perfect conditions, having backpacked extensively through Central America and Jamaica.
“I believe that it’s so important for people to study or travel abroad,” said Penn. “It’s crucial to learn from and meet people from other cultures. There are so many opportunities that grow out of these experiences. Of course, you learn and grow in an academic environment, but what you can learn outside of the classroom is beneficial, too.”
At RIT/NTID, Penn was vice president of NTID’s Ebony Club, worked with the NTID Student Life team, was a community student advocate and was involved in theater. She also played intramural volleyball and basketball.
“I’ve loved so much about the RIT/NTID community, including the students, my mentors and all of the events and opportunities,” she said.
Sarah Sarchet, a lecturer at RIT/NTID, met Penn in 2016 when Penn was accepted into RIT’s WOCHA (Women of Color, Honor and Ambition) program.
“Maya is natural leader and a true empath,” said Sarchet. “We ‘clicked’ as a mentor/mentee pair because of how well Maya can relate to others. We both come from large families with many siblings as well as mixed-race families. We had many shared experiences, and our conversations flowed naturally, despite the fact that we had only known each other briefly. And she has been truly bitten by the travel bug. This makes her skilled at meeting new people and learning new cultures. She is unafraid of leaving her comfort zone to try new adventures.”
Of course, Penn says she will miss her parents, who are both RIT/NTID alumni.
“My mom is worried, of course, but she made sure that it’s safe and that I’m in good hands. She’s just so happy that I have the opportunity to do something like this with my life.”
After her work with the Peace Corps, Penn is thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in social work, driven by her time in the foster care system. But she also likes to keep her options open.
“You just never know what’s going to happen after two years in Africa.”
Five teams of deaf and hard-of-hearing students from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf went head-to-head April 25 during The Next Big Idea Competition, a Shark Tank-style business competition. Small World That, a central hub that connects the international deaf community through a website and app, took home the $5,000 first prize.
Judges from the competition’s sponsor, ZVRS, a video-relay service headquartered in Clearwater, Fla., reviewed projects of the team finalists, asked questions and selected first-, second- and third-place winners.
First place: Small World That (Sarah Stanislow, international and global studies major from Pittsford, N.Y.; Lauren Putz, international and global studies major from Naperville, Ill.; Rachel Soudakoff, MBA student from Burbank, Calif.; and Priyanka Patil, computer science graduate student from Mumbai, India) Through the Small World That platform, users can locate other deaf and hard-of-hearing people and signers around the world. According to the team, “the hope is for deaf people to take advantage of the small community we have and form new connections with each another in a convenient way.”
Second place: VeeTV (Andrew Cho, administrative support technology major from Hayward, Calif.; Vincent Venutolo, mobile and app development major from Bensalem, Pa.; and Sami Williamson, political science major from Hampton Bays, N.Y.) VeeTV is a media and entertainment company specializing in delivering media content to the deaf community. By bringing sign language to mass media on a streaming platform, the company enables the deaf community around the globe to enjoy their favorite movies, television shows, music videos, social media videos and more. VeeTV took home the $3,000 second-place prize.
Third place: BodyEasy (Tony Nguyen, industrial design major from Pennsauken, N.J.; John Huang, graduate business student from Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Evans Seraphin, applied computing major from Brooklyn, N.Y.) BodyEasy is a wearable assistive device that enables users to reduce the pressure on the back when lifting heavy objects. BodyEasy won the $2,000 third-place prize.
Other finalists included Yovato (Joseph Ruggieri, finance major from Hopewell, N.J., and Michael Wentland, mechanical engineering technology major from Lynnwood, Wash.), who hopes to revitalize the sports industry by preventing knee injuries, and ASL Ripple (Emmanuel Perrodin-Njoku, biomedical sciences major from Washington, D.C.; Kaytlyn Johnson, Master of Architecture major from Fargo, N.D.; and Dara Levy, nutrition management major from Carmel, Ind.), an American Sign Language consulting firm serving interpreting programs within universities and organizations that focus on providing ASL interpreting services.
The Next Big Idea competition is an annual event where teams of students combine skills related to their individual majors to create innovative products, technology or businesses. Teams work with mentors on their projects and compete before judges for cash prizes. This year marks the seventh anniversary of the competition.
“The Next Big Idea competition is the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work, creativity and innovation on the part of these student inventors and entrepreneurs,” said Gerry Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “It’s evident that many of these projects contain the perfect blend of technology, art and design, while also providing a much-needed benefit to the community. I look forward to one day seeing some of these products move forward to production and sold in the marketplace.”
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.
When Ping Liu first arrived at RIT, she couldn’t speak English and didn’t know American Sign Language. Today, she is one of the most successful students in her major and is being recognized with the RIT Outstanding Service Award for International Students.
Liu, 24, is from a small village in northern China where her parents are farmers. Her dream school has been RIT since she was in middle school. An applied computer technology major, Liu hopes to earn her master’s degree in human-centered computing and eventually teach in China and one day work at the United Nations to help deaf people all over the world.
Like many international students, Liu arrived in the United States unaware of the hurdles she would have to overcome and adjustments she would have to make to be successful in the American educational system.
“I had a hard time communicating,” she said. “On the first day of class, I did not think I could stay in the United States for one more day. I felt so lonely and nervous.”
She soon joined RIT/NTID’s Asian Deaf Club as the cultural director and the Deaf International Student Association as the program director, and became an integral part of the college community.
But where Liu really shines is her passionate, enthusiastic promotion of RIT. She created a website to promote RIT among deaf Chinese students. She teaches ASL on the website, fields questions about RIT and applying to RIT, gives advice on taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), including feedback on student writing for the test.
She also wants to establish a scholarship for Chinese students who are deaf. She is at RIT/NTID on scholarship and wants to give back.
“I want to do something good while I am here,” she said. “RIT has changed my life, and I want to do the same for others.”
The leadership awards and scholarship ceremony dinner takes place 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, in RIT’s University Gallery.