Diversifying Campus and Careers

NTID Admissions Counselor Lauren Bain meets with students from Rochester's John Marshall High School. Photo by Mark Benjamin.
Story Highlights: 
  • More than 120 American Sign Language interpreters are employed at RIT/NTID.
  • NTID's interpreting program is the oldest and largest in the nation; graduates can find interpreting jobs throughout the country.
  • RIT's Rochester City Scholars program enables aspiring students to attend RIT; scholarships cover their tuition costs.


A field trip to the Rochester Institute of Technology campus taught 20 students taking American Sign Language II at Rochester’s John Marshall High School what they could expect if they plan a career as an interpreter.

Their visit also strengthened the collaboration between RIT and the Rochester City School District to offer urban students opportunities they may not normally have, and to help RIT increase diversity among its students, faculty and staff.

“It’s a great opportunity to expose students from the city to a field of study and career options that otherwise might be overlooked,” says Marshall’s Assistant Principal Jason Muhammad.

More than 120 sign language interpreters are employed at RIT, and hundreds more do freelance work in the Rochester community. Freelance interpreters could be working in a doctor’s office in the morning, a courtroom at noon and signing during a wake in the evening, the students learned.

They listened to faculty, staff, interpreters and interpreting students who talked about their experiences. The role of an interpreter is to provide effective communication between hearing and deaf people. In a classroom setting, that may sound simple. But if the interpreter is going to be working in a physics class, for example, it would require some knowledge of the vocabulary used there.

“The first two years of learning to become an interpreter is hard because you have to learn so much,” says Jonathan Hopkins, an associate interpreter at RIT. “And you really need to get involved in the Deaf community, just as you would if you were a Spanish interpreter, you’d need to get involved with the Spanish community. But the most important thing is that you need to have a positive attitude.”

Rico Peterson, NTID’s assistant dean and director of Access Services, said interpreting careers have been “booming” for many years across the country. “There always is a higher demand than there is a supply,” he says. “And you can take the skills with you wherever you go. It’s a very useful profession.”

Alexus Lomack, 16, one of the students from Marshall, enjoyed her first visit to the RIT campus and is pondering her career options, which could include becoming a sign language interpreter.

“I like my signing class,” she says. “My teacher (Brenda Buckley, ’09 from NTID’s Master of Science Program in Secondary Education) makes it fun.”

In 2009, RIT announced the Rochester City Scholars program, an opportunity for Rochester city students who aspire to attend a world-class university, as well as an opportunity for RIT to attract the best and brightest from the area’s largest school district. The students receive scholarships that cover their tuition.

Alvin Boyd, special assistant to the NTID President for Diversity and Inclusion, says greater diversity among interpreting students and working interpreters on campus is a goal for RIT.

“Hopefully this will be the start of a continuing collaboration,” Boyd says.

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