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National Technical Institute for the deaf: a college of the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Three years ago, Grace Kennedy was like thousands of high school students around the country; she was immersed in her studies, involved in clubs and extracurricular activities, and beginning to think about college. Unlike her peers, however, Kennedy faced additional challenges as she looked for a college where she, as a young woman with hearing loss, partial blindness, and other medical issues, could succeed.

She found the ideal school when she visited Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), a 15,000-student university in upstate New York that is home to 1,100 students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. One of RIT's eight colleges, the federally funded National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), had everything Kennedy wanted: high-tech programs of study, a large deaf and hard-of-hearing student and faculty population, a very accessible campus, and a strong disability services system in place.

"I literally cried when I got my acceptance letter from RIT," the 20 year old from Ohio recalls. "I knew that this was the place where I would finally fit in and be accepted for who I am."

It had been a long haul for Kennedy. She was born with a rare genetic condition that left her with significant hearing loss, blindness in her left eye, limited movement of her left shoulder, and only part of a kidney. She endured frustration in elementary school from children who teased her about her hearing aids, misunderstanding from teachers who wrongly assumed she had learning disabilities, and, later, ridicule from fellow teens who couldn't understand how the "short, blind girl who couldn't hear" could be a member of the high school marching band's drum line.

When Kennedy arrived at RIT, she knew that, as a student with a disability, she was far from alone.

The NTID and RIT Relationship

NTID was created 40 years ago by the federal government in response to a growing need for more technology-focused career options for young deaf people. The government set aside funding and began looking for the right host university. Rochester Institute of Technology, widely known for its technical education and its cooperative work experience program for students, beat out several other prestigious colleges to host NTID. In addition, Rochester, NY, home to the Rochester School for the Deaf, already had a sizable deaf population.

Accommodations for Students Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

In 2006, nearly 800 RIT students registered with the Office of Disability Services, which ensures that students, faculty, and staff members who have disabilities get equal access to programs, services, and physical facilities. More than 100 of those students were deaf or hard of hearing with secondary disabilities including, but not limited to, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities.

Common accommodations for such students include notetaking and testing modifications, modified housing arrangements, and referrals related to housing, food service, parking, and health services. Those with learning disabilities are supported through an Academic Support Center, which has free writing and math labs. Tutoring and academic support are also available.

They also get a fully accessible campus with videophones, specially designed residence halls with strobe fire alarms and doorbells, Ethernet- connected residence hall rooms and lounges, and visual emergency warning systems in academic buildings. They get the world's largest staff of professional interpreters of any college program worldwide. They have access to speech-to-text, real-time translation, including a note-taking component.

At RIT, one will find 220 students, faculty, and staff with cochlear implants, some with two implants. RIT audiologists provide mapping, equipment troubleshooting and upgrades, and individual communication instruction.

RIT Staff

"RIT has a solid history of knowledgeable staff members who have both personal and professional experience in the area of disability," says Susan Ackerman, Disability Services coordinator.

Staff members who can relate include NTID's CEO and Dean, Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, for example, who is profoundly deaf and went through high school and most of college without any interpreters, note-takers, or tutors. Understanding first hand the challenges students face in the classroom and the workplace, Dr. Hurwitz has helped RIT become an international leader in educating deaf students.

Inclusive Classrooms

Today, students usually say that studying and living with both deaf and hearing students is a major part of RIT's appeal. Deaf and hard-of-hearing high school students can spend a week on campus during the summer trying out the college experience while gaining hands-on exposure to a wide variety of different careers through a program called Explore Your Future. Once accepted to RIT, they participate in a thorough, and thoroughly fun, orientation. When they begin their studies, they discover small class sizes offered in high-tech classrooms with highly skilled teachers and dedicated academic counselors.

Financial Value and Career Preparation

Most students--and their parents--would agree, however, that RIT's strongest selling points are career preparation and financial value. Students with hearing loss get a significant tuition reduction, paying about $8,500, compared to hearing students who pay approximately $25,000 per year for tuition.

They also get significant help when it comes to finding jobs. RIT has a strong reputation for its undergraduate cooperative work experience programs, which are required for most of the college's academic programs. Deaf students who enroll in associate and bachelor's level programs participate in such co-ops, which often lead to permanent jobs after graduation.

NTID's Center on Employment offers a training program that shows employers how to integrate a deaf or hard-of-hearing employee into the workplace. RITs placement rate for deaf and hard-of-hearing graduates seeking jobs is an impressive 95 percent.

The Center on Employment also sponsors an annual Job Fair where employers can interview students in person. After a recent Job Fair, a representative from the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense and Health Affairs said, "I found several students I wanted to hire. Their technical qualifications easily place them in the top tier of the 1,800 students we recruit each year."

Grace Kennedy

As for Grace Kennedy, life is busy and fulfilling. She belongs to the RIT Ambulance Club, the Metal Works Club, a sorority, and practices Japanese sword fighting as well as drumming in her spare time. She also recently won the 2006 Overcoming Challenges Award from the American Chemical Society and moved a national audience to tears during her acceptance speech.

"My life right now is great," she says. "I have reached heights that I never knew I could reach. I am definitely more confident in my academic and social life than I have ever been. This is a place where I feel accepted."

For information and entry forms for any of the above competitions or camps, visit http://www.rit.edu/NTID/outreach.

RIT Competitions and Camps for Middle and High School Students

RIT has several initiatives to reach out to deaf and hard-of-hearing students during their middle and high school years. These programs are designed to promote awareness of various career fields, foster self-confidence, and inspire students with hearing loss to begin thinking about college at the appropriate time.

The RIT SpiRIT Writing Contest

Writers in 10th and 11th grade and their teachers collaborate to submit writing portfolios with topics that can draw from personal experiences, historical occurrences, and current events. Winners can choose an all-expense-paid trip to the contest awards ceremony at RIT or a scholarship to NTID's Explore Your Future Program for high school sophomores and juniors.

RIT's National Science Fair for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

Budding scientists in middle school and high school can submit their best projects for a science fair held every spring. The science fair weekend offers cash prizes and plaques for winners and their schools, a tour of the RIT campus, and a chance for students to make new friends who someday may become their future fellow scientists.

TechGirlz

The chance to explore interests in science, technology, engineering, and math for deaf and hard-of-hearing 8th graders is the appeal of TechGirlz, a week-long summer camp offered at RIT. Campers learn more about science and technology and about jobs and careers in those fields. Girls build their own computers to take home, analyze a "crime scene", work with computer-aided drafting equipment to create a magnifying glass, and serve as commanders on a simulated mission to Mars.

Steps to Success

Deaf and hard-of-hearing African-American, Latino American, and Native American students in 7th-9th grades can attend Steps to Success, a career exploration summer mini-camp that allows students to use computers, work with robots, do science experiments, and more. Parents or guardians can attend workshops that share tips about how to support their student through the transition from high school to college.

MATHCOUNTS

Deaf and hard-of-hearing middle school Mathletes[R] can compete in a math competition that tests speed, accuracy, and teamwork. Last year's competition was a preview of RIT's first MATHCOUNTS[R] competition for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, held in March. The competition challenges students' math skills, develops their self-confidence, and rewards them for their achievements.

Digital Arts and Animation Competition

Students with hearing loss in 9th-12th grades compete for prizes and an all-expenses-paid trip to Rochester in the Digital Arts and Animation Competition. This national competition recognizes students' artistic expression with awards for Mixed Digital Media, Web Page Design, Graphic Media, 3-D Animation, Interactive Media, Photo Illustration, and Free-Hand Art in Digital Form.
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Title Annotation:Schools CAMPS & Residence
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Words:1538
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