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From its beginnings, RIT has been deeply connected to the educational and practical training needs of citizenry and industry. The university’s roots go back to 1829 when the city’s founder established the Rochester Athenaeum, a literary society that offered public lectures and debates and attracted such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. In 1891, the Athenaeum merged with the Mechanics Institute, which had been created and funded by local business and community leaders to provide technical training to meet local industry’s growing demand for skilled workers. The merged institution—the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute—combined cultural education and practical technical training. In 1912, cooperative education was added to the programmatic mix and the core foundation was in place for Rochester Institute of Technology, as it has been named since 1944.

RIT Today

Today, RIT is one of the world’s leading innovative institutions, a vibrant, connected community that is home to diverse, ambitious, creative students, and faculty from around the world. As of fall 2015, the university enrolled 18,606 full and part-time students (15,401 undergraduate and 3,205 graduate students) who represent all 50 states and 100 nations. Nearly 3,200 students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds are enrolled on the main campus along with approximately 2,700 international students. An additional 1,760 students are enrolled at RIT’s international locations in Croatia, Kosovo, United Arab Emirates, and China.

Through the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), one of nine academic units on campus, RIT has achieved international prominence as a leader in preparing deaf and hard-of- hearing students for successful careers in professional and technical fields. NTID was created by federal law in 1965 under President Johnson and located at RIT in 1966. The university provides unparalleled access and support services for the more than 1,200 deaf and hard-of-hearing students who live, study, and work with hearing students on the RIT campus.

RIT is well known for its commitment to undergraduate students and, increasingly, for offering a broad range of innovative graduate programs that combine the theoretical with practical applications and align with demonstrated needs in the marketplace. RIT has steadily grown its doctoral programs; in 2016, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education reclassified the university from “Masters – Comprehensive” to “Doctoral University – Moderate Research Activity.” In May 2016, RIT awarded 32 doctoral degrees in eight Ph.D. programs.

For more than 30 years, RIT has been recognized for educational quality and value in U.S. News & World Report, traditionally listed among the top 10 regional universities. The photography program, widely regarded as one of the best in the country, was recently ranked in the top five by U.S. News & World Report and has produced seven Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists to date. In the 2016 edition of U.S. News & World Report, RIT was ranked 20th among the nation’s best online computer information and technology programs and 8th in graduate studies in Industrial Design.

History of RIT Presidents

Carleton Gibson portrait

Carleton Gibson (1910-1916)

Carleton Gibson was chosen as the first president of the Mechanics Institute in 1910. He placed emphasis on industrial education and did not propose any immediate or drastic changes to the institute upon his arrival. By 1912, however, he had managed to have the institute adopt a policy of allowing students to work half their time of study in industry and spend half their time attending classes. This method of study would later be referred to as a “co-op.”

James Barker portrait

James Barker (1916-1919)

James Barker was asked to be the Mechanics Institute's second president in 1916. He was an engineering graduate from Cornell University and believed in emphasizing technical training. Barker's main interest was the promotion of secondary education. He remained in the position until 1919, when he resigned in order to take a position with the Rochester City School System.

Royal Farnum portrait

Royal Farnum (1919-1921)

Royal Farnum assumed the presidency of the institute in 1919. Between 1919 and 1921 more students enrolled at the institute than ever before. This was primarily due to the school's appeal as an intermediary place of instruction between high school and college-level education. Fundraising efforts carried out during his term allowed the school to remain financially stable.

John Randall portrait

John Randall (1922-1936)

The institute waited for a period of nine months before appointing John Randall as Farnum's successor. Randall was invited to be president in 1922. He had served as the undersecretary to the secretary of war for the United States. He had taught at Pratt Institute, where he was head of the physics department, and at Cheltenham Military School in Pennsylvania. Randall and Carl Lomb engaged in a series of conferences that would benefit the institute's future. It was eventually decided that the role of the institute was to provide short, intensive courses and not to award degrees.

Mark Ellingson portrait

Mark Ellingson (1936-1969)

Mark Ellingson's career at the institute began as a teacher. During his term as president, the institute was able to increase the endowment from $1.5 million in 1937 to $20.8 million three years later. An important merger between the Empire School of Printing and the Mechanics Institute took place in 1937. In 1944, the Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute was renamed Rochester Institute of Technology. During Ellingson's presidency, RIT revised its decision regarding awarding degrees. Under Ellingson's direction, the university began planning for the Henrietta campus in 1961.

Paul Miller portrait

Paul Miller (1969-1979)

When Paul Miller began his term in 1969, the campus had just moved to Henrietta. Miller introduced a budgeting procedure to RIT that focused on simply not spending more money than the university had available and allocating funds as they were deemed necessary. Enrollment increased at a steady pace from 1969 to 1981 due to the increasing likelihood of college-level studies leading to a professional job.

M. Richard Rose portrait

M. Richard Rose (1979-1992)

M. Richard Rose assumed the presidency in 1979. Miller and Rose shared the belief that students in a technical school should be exposed to more art, literature, philosophy and culture. Partially out of this interest, and partially due to financial difficulties, Eisenhower College became a part of RIT. The university had made attempts to increase the liberal arts and humanities curriculum. Rose helped launch RIT's first Ph.D. program, in imaging science, in 1988.

Albert Simone portrait

Albert Simone (1992-2007)

Albert Simone was inaugurated president in 1992. Under his direction, partnerships with business, industry and other professions have led to RIT's continued success. Simone helped launch Ph.D. programs in microsystems engineering (2002), computing and information sciences (2005) and color science (2007). He also spearheaded the addition of the Gordon Field House and Activities Center and approved RIT's move to Division I men's hockey.

William W. Destler portrait

William W. Destler (2007-present)

William W. Destler became RIT’s 9th president on July 1. He was formerly senior vice president for academic affairs and provost of the University of Maryland at College Park. He has a vision to take RIT to the next level by transforming it into the nation’s first “Innovation University.”