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

7 Aug

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.

Living and breathing science: Becoming a biologist

23 Jul

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

25 Jun

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.

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

14 Jun

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

13 Jun

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.