RIT/NTID, World Federation of the Deaf sign formal cooperation agreement

Three light skinned males stand holding formal agreement papers and smiling.

Representatives from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and the World Federation of the Deaf have signed a formal cooperation agreement as a way to continue and strengthen the relationship between the world’s first and largest technological college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and the global deaf rights organization. The signing, led by RIT/NTID President Gerry Buckley and WFD President Joseph Murray, took place at the 18th World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf held earlier this month in Paris. 

Details of the agreement include:

  • Cooperation and collaboration regarding opportunities contributing to shared values, such as providing leadership and advocacy to deaf communities.
  • Assisting in making connections and building relationships with national deaf associations for mutual grant opportunities.
  • Exchanging information and best practices related to approaches in training and empowerment.
  • Promoting the human rights of deaf people within the framework of the United Nations Human Rights system, paying particular attention to the UN Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • Affirming commitments to full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by all UN member states. Both organizations note the importance of the implementation of the articles dealing with sign languages and professional sign language interpreters.
  • Commitment to sharing new research discoveries published by RIT/NTID faculty with WFD for broad dissemination, including research on sign language interpreting and pedagogy, access technologies and employment.

“We are honored to be entering into this cooperation agreement with our friends from WFD, who tirelessly work to improve the lives of people who are deaf throughout the world,” said Buckley. “We take this commitment seriously and look forward to strengthening our relationship as time goes on.”

RIT named among the nation’s ‘Best 385 Colleges’

Students on lawn throwing colorful powder in the air.

The Princeton Review features RIT in the just-published 2020 edition of its annual book The Best 385 Colleges, giving RIT high marks for diversity and campus life in addition to having rigorous academics and helpful professors. Students cited RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf as “providing amazing accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing students who attend the university, including notetaking, interpreters and CPrint technology.” They also praised RIT campus life, calling it “a culture for everybody,” with a wide array of clubs, activities and organizations “where students are able to create what their minds generate.” More.

RIT/NTID students honored for excellence in business studies

Three male students two light skinned and one dark skinned smiling and holding certificates in their hands.

Three deaf and hard-of-hearing students in business-related majors at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf received a new scholarship funded by the Frank B. Sullivan Memorial Foundation.

The recipients are Jacob Schwall, a new media marketing major from Fishers, Indiana.; Peter Bilzerian, a management information systems/finance major from Holden, Massachusetts; and Bakar Ali, an MBA student from Rochester, New York.

The foundation contributed $50,000 to an endowed fund in 2018 that provides scholarship support to RIT/NTID students enrolled in an associate-level degree program offered through NTID’s Business Studies Department, and baccalaureate and master’s programs offered through RIT’s E. Philip Saunders College of Business. The endowed fund also provides general support for the Deaf Leadership and Community Development program, a future bachelor’s degree program that will be offered through NTID’s Department of Liberal Studies. Prior to the creation of the endowed fund, the foundation awarded 19 deaf and hard-of-hearing students pursuing business degrees, ranging from associate to graduate levels, through NTID’s Business Studies Department and RIT’s E. Philip Saunders College of Business.

“I’m incredibly honored to receive this prestigious award from the Frank B. Sullivan Memorial Foundation,” said Bilzerian. “The foundation’s generosity and support is truly appreciated. It’s gratifying knowing that our deaf and hard-of-hearing business students not only have support from RIT, but also the generous supporters of NTID. Dr. Sullivan’s legacy lives on through the impact the recipients make on the world.”

Sullivan, a member of NTID’s National Advisory Group and the National Captioning Institute, among other organizations, worked to provide access to life, automobile and other types of insurance to the Deaf community and was an advocate for deaf people’s ability to live independently, drive and to have closed-caption programming on television.

“For generations to come, this scholarship will help change the lives of those who will benefit from it,” said NTID President Gerry Buckley. “We are grateful to the Frank B. Sullivan Memorial Foundation for this generous gift.” 

RIT/NTID hosts conference on literary and artistic works about deaf experiences, Nov. 6-9

Graphic of black hands with multicolored ribbons coming from them.

Scholars, students, deaf cultural studies and sign language teachers, artists, playwrights, filmmakers, poets, writers and historians will make their way to Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf Nov. 6-9 for an international conference focusing on examining literary and artistic works about deaf experiences.

The ARTiculating Deaf Experiences Conference will feature exhibits at RIT/NTID’s Joseph F. and Helen C. Dyer Arts Center and Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery, as well as sign-language literature performances, a play production, presentations, short panel discussions, a banquet, and deaf artist vendors and company exhibitors.

Keynote presenters are French anthropologist and performer Olivier Schetrit, teacher and deaf learning specialist Kristi Merriweather, and Brazilian poet Fernanda de Araugo Machado.

Schetrit is a postdoctoral researcher at CEMS-CNRS-EHESS, a leading research center in Paris, France, known for the development of conceptual, theoretical and methodological tools for sociological analysis. Deaf from birth, he is a stylist and actor by training and part of the professional troupe International Visual Theater, the only theater for the deaf in Paris. He is also a pedagogue, director and professional storyteller. His talk is titled, “IVT: The Art of Emancipation Contribution to a History of Deaf Art: a selection of contemporary cases.”

Merriweather, an educator and deaf learning specialist, has been deaf since age 2. Her poems have been published in Deaf American Poetry: An Anthology. She is a co-founding member of Atlanta Tribe of Deaf A.C.E. (DeafBlack Americans Committed to Empowerhood) and has established a national youth program for BlackDeaf teenagers for National Black Deaf Advocates. Her talk, “Do It For the Culture: A Critical Look into the Evolving BlackDeaf Expressions in Written English,” highlights certain synthesized cultural features in BlackDeaf world art/literature and their potential impact in the multifaceted deaf world.

Fernanda de Araugo Machado is a professor and researcher at the Federal University of Santa Catarina. She holds degrees in arts education, languages and translation studies. She is part of the Libras Corpus Research Group and a member of the National Council for Scientifics and Technological Development Research Group Directory. She also coordinated the Brazilian Folklore Surda Art Festival. She will be speaking about the “Anthology of Poetics in Brazilian Sign Language.

“All cultures create works to represent who they are. Deaf culture is no exception,” said Patti Durr, associate professor at NTID and conference co-organizer. “A conference of this nature will hopefully inspire cross-pollination of different genres and themes. In the early 1990s, NTID hosted two major ASL literature conferences and, to this day, people continue to comment on them and ask for more. With 2019 being the 30th anniversary of De’VIA, a genre of visual art that represents the deaf experience and Deaf culture, and the 10th anniversary of Surdism, an international movement to bring about social justice for deaf people via artistic and literary expressions, NTID is the perfect location to host this important academic conference.”

Early registration is $200 and runs through Sept. 14, with a discount for students. For more information and to see the complete schedule, go to https://www.rit.edu/ntid/adeccon/.  

Living and breathing science: Becoming a biologist

Alicia Wooten, a young woman with dark hair in a lab coat, smiles up at the camera.

“I always had an interest in how the body protects itself,” says Alicia Wooten, ’11. “The thing I love about immunology is that it is always evolving.”

Wooten, who hails from San Antonio, TX, and graduated from RIT’s College of Science with a B.S. in biomedical sciences in 2011, successfully defended her dissertation at Boston University in early June.

Her research focused on Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia, and how a specific molecule, called cyclic di-AMP, affects the way white blood cells respond to the infection. This fits Wooten’s interests in a specific way.

“Every person, every organ, every disease—immunology works the same, yet different. It’s like a puzzle, trying to fit the pieces together, and I really enjoy that,” says Wooten.

Wooten’s interest in lung-based research was sparked by the loss of her mother to lung cancer while Wooten was attending RIT, and was spurred further by mentors who encouraged her to continue working.

“My research mentor, Dr. Hyla Sweet—without her, I never would have gained experience of what lab life looks like,” says Wooten. “Carla Deibel and Dr. Matt Lynn were also integral to my success at RIT, and their tutoring support really helped me.”

The infrastructure of academic support available to deaf and hard-of-hearing students at RIT/NTID benefited Wooten as she took advantage of RIT’s academic offerings.

“I’ll never forget taking tissue culture and microbiology courses,” she adds. “I still talk about Dr. Thomas Frederick’s microbiology lab to this day. His energy and passion—that is the type of teacher I want to be. I also enjoyed Dr. Sandra Connelly’s general biology course and how she made the information easy and interesting.”

Wooten takes the examples of her RIT professors and NTID support staff and faculty with her as she embarks on the next step of her journey, as a newly-hired tenure-track assistant professor of biology at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.

Wooten admits that she only reached this point in her post-college career after some searching. “I ended up taking a gap year to figure things out,” she says. “During that time, I tutored K-12 students. I realized how much I missed doing science and also recognized how much I liked teaching.”

Starting at that realization and ending with a complete dissertation took time and effort, according to Wooten. “My advice is: Set your goals high. I always wanted to do something I was proud of and so I always kept improving myself. I never stopped reaching and I didn’t give up.”

Wooten followed her own advice. “One of my favorite stories that I like to tell people is how I got into graduate school. It actually took three years. During my senior year at RIT, one professor encouraged me to apply to graduate school. I decided to apply to one school and see what happened. I got rejected.”

After some time and more applications, she came to feel that graduate school might not be a good fit for her, but chose not to stop there.

Instead, Wooten enrolled in the University of Rochester’s PREP post-baccalaureate program, which aims to support students from underrepresented groups with recent degrees in biomedical-related fields in developing the skills needed to continue their academic career.

“After all of the feedback and changes [in PREP], I went all out and applied to eight schools. I got interviews at six, and was accepted at all six,” says Wooten.

“If you want something badly enough, keep fighting for it.”

Ph.D. student receives prestigious Microsoft Research grant for diversity in computing

Close up portrait of Larwan Berke, a young white professional male.

Larwan Berke is one of 11 best research students in North America selected for award

 

Larwan Berke, a computing and information sciences Ph.D. student at Rochester Institute of Technology, was one of only 11 outstanding doctoral students selected to receive the 2019 Microsoft Research Dissertation Grant.

Each dissertation grant provides up to $25,000 in funding to doctoral students who are underrepresented in the field of computing. The funding helps students at North American universities complete research as part of their doctoral thesis work and aims to increase the pipeline of diverse talent receiving advanced degrees in computing-related fields.

Microsoft Research reviewed more than 200 proposals for students and awarded 11 grants.  

“All 11 of these students are doing fascinating research, and we’re thrilled to support these rising computing stars in ways that will truly help them advance their work,” said Meredith Ringel Morris, principal researcher and research manager at Microsoft Research, in a statement.

“This is a big honor for me, and I am thrilled to receive the support from Microsoft to push me to reach the finish line for my dissertation,” said Berke, who is from Fremont, Calif.

Inspired by his own experiences as a person who is deaf, Berke is working to improve the usability of captions produced by automatic speech recognition (ASR) for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Berke explained that ASR technology is improving and may some day become a viable method for transcribing audio input in real-time. However, current ASR is imperfect.

Berke’s research explores adding markups to the captioning, so that deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers are able to discern when the ASR may be erroneous, by utilizing the confidence values in the ASR output. He completed his proposal defense in fall 2018.

“My goal is to empower the deaf or hard-of-hearing individual with greater autonomy in scenarios such as one-on-one meetings with hearing people when in-person interpreters are not available,” said Berke.

The funding will cover the cost of a Microsoft Surface laptop and study participant fees for an experiment to evaluate methods of representing potential errors in ASR captions. The funding will also allow Berke to pay for two undergraduate research assistants.

“This will give me an opportunity to mentor them and hopefully push them toward advanced degrees in computing,” Berke said.

In addition to the funding, grant recipients will travel to attend the Ph.D. Summit—a two-day workshop held in Redmond, Washington, in the fall. Grant recipients can present their research, meet with Microsoft researchers in their research area and receive career coaching. The winners of the Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellowship, including RIT student Danielle Gonzalez, will also be in attendance.

Other students selected for the 2019 grant are from University of California, San Diego; Princeton University; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Carnegie Mellon University; University of Southern California; Stanford University; and University of South Florida.

This is the third year Microsoft Research has offered this research funding opportunity for doctoral students who are underrepresented in the field of computing, which include those who self-identify as a woman, African American, Black, Hispanic, Latinx, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and/or people with disabilities.

NTID President Buckley honored at Pennsylvania School for the Deaf graduation

Two light-skinned males in blue robes with yellow collars stand next to each other. One is holding an engraved plaque.

Gerard J. Buckley, president of Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, received the George W. Nevil Award of Merit at the graduation ceremony for students of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia.

The award honored Buckley’s work as an educator and administrator and read, “In recognition of making significant contributions to the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people.” He also delivered the commencement address to the graduating class.

Peter Bailey, head of school at PSD, noted Buckley’s service to the Deaf community throughout the country.

“Dr. Buckley has inspired many PSD students as well as students from all over the country with his leadership and innovation,” Bailey said. “We were honored to present the Award of Merit to him as a way of thanking him for all of his efforts.”

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Buckley has nearly 40 years of experience in higher education, including nearly 30 years serving in a variety of capacities at NTID. From 1990 to 1993, Buckley served as chairperson and assistant professor of the Department of Educational Outreach at NTID, followed by five years as director of NTID's Center for Outreach and assistant professor on the RIT/NTID Social Work Support Team. From 1998 to 2003, he served as NTID associate dean for student services, and held the position of NTID assistant vice president for college advancement with responsibility for the admissions, placement, marketing, and outreach operations of the college from 2004 until beginning his role as NTID president of NTID and RIT vice president on January 1, 2011.

He has served as president of the board of the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association and as president of the Lexington School for the Deaf Board of Trustees in New York City. He also has served on the National Advisory Board of NIH's Institute on Deafness at the recommendation of Senator Robert Dole (retired).

Buckley holds a B.S.in Social Work from RIT/NTID, an M.S.W. from University of Missouri and an Ed.D. in Special Education from the University of Kansas.

Partnership brings free computer science career exploration program to deaf, hard-of-hearing students in California

Two dark-skinned female teens looking at laptop computer screen.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and the California Department of Rehabilitation have partnered to provide a free, one-week computer science career exploration program for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in California, June 23-27.

Hosted on the California State University, San Bernardino, campus, “Computer Science Week” provides up to 25 deaf and hard-of hearing California high school students interested in studying computer science and technology in college with a week of activities and learning opportunities to gain experience and explore their personal interests in the field.

Activities include hands-on experience in computer science and specialized skills, exploring coding while programming a device, and determining interests in a variety of computer science and technology-related careers.

The sessions are run by deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing faculty and staff who serve as role models, introduce students to life after high school, and provide support for students who may be away from home for the first time.

For more information about the career exploration program partnership, contact DJ Monahan, RIT/NTID assistant director for Outreach & Special Projects, at dxmnca@rit.edu.

Partnership brings free health science career exploration program to deaf, hard-of-hearing students in California

Students in lab setting wearing lab coats and looking into microscopes.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and the California Department of Rehabilitation have partnered to provide a free, one-week health science career exploration program for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in California, June 16-20.

Hosted on the Sacramento State University campus, “Health Science Week” provides up to 25 deaf and hard-of hearing California high school students interested in studying the health sciences in college with a week of activities and learning opportunities to gain experience and explore their personal interests in the field.

In addition to the programs offered, Joe Xavier, director of the California Department of Rehabilitation, will be visiting the camp at 10 a.m., Monday, June 17, to meet with participants and observe them in action.

Activities include hands-on experience in health science and lab procedures, attending medical demonstrations and facility tours, participating in group activities and discussions and taking part in a variety of health science programs.

The sessions are run by deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing faculty and staff who serve as role models, introduce students to life after high school, and provide support for students who may be away from home for the first time.

For more information about the career exploration program partnership, contact DJ Monahan, RIT/NTID assistant director for Outreach & Special Projects, at dxmnca@rit.edu.