RIT Public Service Award Winners

An English teacher for nearly 40 years and a double-major student originally from Somalia have been chosen to receive prestigious public service awards from Rochester Institute of Technology.

Stephanie Polowe, a professor in the Cultural & Creative Studies Department at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, has been named 2013 recipient of RIT’s Four Presidents Distinguished Public Service Award.

And Abubakar Ali, an RIT/NTID Urban and Community Studies and International Studies double major in the College of Liberal Arts, was named recipient of the Bruce R. James ’64 Distinguished Service Award for his service in the RIT community, in Rochester and in his native Somalia.

They will be recognized at a 4 p.m. ceremony on March 12 in RIT’s Ingle Auditorium.

Polowe, of Irondequoit, began working at NTID in 1974 as an English tutor and then teacher. She has been very active in community and public service, both as a volunteer and a public official.

She served in the Monroe County Legislature for 10 years in addition to serving as a member of the Irondequoit Town Board and on boards of the Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, the West Irondequoit School Board and as past president of the Monroe County School Boards Association.

Among her accomplishments as a public official, Polowe successfully advocated for the opening of Durand Eastman Beach on Lake Ontario for swimming, and for the construction of the Irondequoit Bay Outlet Bridge.

Polowe is president of the Irondequoit Rotary, was ordained in 1997 as a church elder of the Summerville Presbyterian Church and is on the steering committee for the capital campaign at the Rochester Area Humane Society at Lollypop Farm.

“Her commitment to the community in which she lives serves as a natural complement to her equally strong commitment to her employer of the last 38 years,” said Kathryn Schmitz, NTID’s associate dean for Academic Administration in a nomination letter for Polowe.

Polowe attributes her motivation and success with those she has served with.

“I am very, very honored,” says Polowe. “I know many people who do so much more than I do. I’ll be accepting on behalf of the people I worked with.”

She cites her affiliation with Rotary as being the most inspiring to her. “The people in Rotary do so much for so many,” she says. “Just associating with people who do so much for so many has made community service a part of my life. I used to stew a lot about the problems of the world, and it really got to me. But doing my little bit helps to alleviate some of those problems. If everybody does just a little bit, it helps a lot.”

Along with the award, Polowe receives $2,500 to be donated to the charities of her choice.

Ali, who was born in Somalia, helped establish the Somali Deaf Union, the first Somali organization for deaf individuals in his country. It later developed into the Somali National Association of the Deaf, and he served as its president.

Because he was working with government officials, Ali became a target of terrorists. He moved to Kenya in 2007 and resettled to Lansing, Mich., in 2009. There, he worked in a clothing factory and enrolled in a community college. He knew no one there, didn’t speak English or know sign language.

He transferred to RIT and is a cross-registered senator in RIT Student Government, representing 588 NTID-supported students taking classes in other colleges of RIT. He helped launch a mentoring program for first-year students and Make A Friend, which encourages integration and socialization between deaf and hearing students.

Off campus, he’s a member of AmeriCorps and works as an intern at the Center for Youth of Rochester, helping at-risk young people dealing with homelessness and other social problems, and at St. Mary’s Place, which helps children of refugees. Ali enjoys helping the children learn English.

“I truly enjoy working with others and in the service of the community,” he says. “My own experience demands it, having dealt with many of the obstacles that the communities I serve are confronting. My past experience has shaped me, sharpened my sympathy for those who need help and taught me the importance of being compassionate and to care about our community.”

Jane Amstey, coordinator for RIT University/Community Partnerships, supervises Ali’s work with AmeriCorps and called him “a remarkable, motivated person. He has overcome many challenges and obstacles in his life. He is a role model for other students on campus. He is eager to be involved, take action and is always on the run. He is enthusiastic and has a warm, engaging manner. His positive attitude and strong work ethic are exemplary.”

Ali will receive $1,000 with his award to be donated to the charities of his choice.

About the awards:

The Four Presidents Distinguished Public Service Award Fund was created by Alfred L. Davis on the occasion of the 65th year of his association with RIT, to commemorate the dedication of the four RIT presidents with whom he worked, in their service to the Rochester community. The purpose of this award is to honor the four presidents, Mark Ellingson, Paul Miller, M. Richard Rose, and Albert Simone, with whom Mr. Davis served at RIT, and to recognize a current member of the faculty or staff who, through his/her public service, mirrors the lives of the four presidents, who have been not only outstanding professionals but also caring members of the community.

The Bruce R. James ’64 Distinguished Public Service Award commemorates the public service of Bruce James, chairman emeritus of the RIT Board of Trustees recognizes an RIT student for exemplary public service in the community with hopes other students will engage in public service.

NTID Website Comment Policies

We welcome your comments on this story. Please be respectful of others and comply with the NTID Website Comment Policies. NTID reserves the right to remove any comment that violates these policies. Please note that all comments reflect the opinions of the commenter(s), not of RIT or NTID.