Janet West

When Janet West, a second-year student from Morgantown, W.Va., began as a Graphic Design major at RIT, she found criticism of her work, normal for that course of study, so terrifying that she changed her major and graduated in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in Business instead. But after working nearly two years as a 401k compliance specialist for the U.S. Department of Labor, West realized that art is still what she is most passionate about, so she reenrolled at RIT to chase her dream.

"I used to take the criticism of my work personally, but now I use feedback more constructively to improve my skills," she says. "This time around I'm less anxious about 'getting it wrong' and more open to exploring new ideas."

West says her professors challenge her to think more creatively every day. "Their lessons have helped me enhance my design skills and boost my confidence. I apply that now to everything I do," she says.

Her passion for art extends to dancing and acting, and she has performed with the RIT/NTID Dance Company and NTID Performing Arts. This spring she will be a member of the cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. West also keeps busy as a member of Ruby's Women Bible Study group at RIT and Hands of Fire, a deaf Christian club.

She also is a Resident Advisor.

"What I like best about RIT and the Rochester community is the deaf-friendly environment," she says. "Communication is easy here — both on and off campus — and that is very important to me."

As one of seven children in a hearing family, West credits her mother with contributing to her success. "I am a twin, and my mother always said I could do everything my sister could. She never let me use my deafness as an excuse for anything," she says.

"Don't give up on your dreams" is what West would say to new students at RIT/NTID, and it's how she chooses to live her life. Her goals are to work as a graphic designer for Forever 21 or another apparel company, and someday open her own T-shirt business.

This story appeared in the Fall/Winter 2012 issue of FOCUS Magazine.

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