“Vision without execution is hallucination.”

So reads Rosica Hall’s atrium wall, in the words of Thomas Edison. Rosica Hall itself is a vision realized and executed by NTID to keep its work at the forefront of contemporary research.  

Although RIT has multiple centers for students to explore their creativity and ideas, such as the Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship – fondly known as the “toilet bowl” by students – none have catered to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community at RIT quite as closely as this hall. Colleagues James DeCaro, NTID dean emeritus and current professor, and Gary Long, associate dean for research at NTID, have worked on the Rosica Hall initiative from its very inception and continue to raise awareness about what happens within its walls.

Setting the Foundation

“From the minute we opened the door, the building was fully funded,” DeCaro said. With nearly $2 million in grant money and the addition of private funds from various sources, Rosica Hall construction was completed in early October 2013.

“This was a ‘build it and they will come’ effort,” Long said with a laugh. “We had some research groups that were funded, but the goal of this was to be a sort of research hub for students and faculty.”

Advocates of the facility hoped to forge new ties between the deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing students and faculty alike, citing RIT’s watchword “innovation” as the core of Rosica Hall’s intended mission. Specifically, NTID’s webpage for the hall cites “development and adaptation of access and instructional technologies” and “innovative cross-disciplinary projects involving science-, engineering-, imaging- and business-related fields” as its design intent.

Prior to the official opening of the building in 2013, NTID hosted the university-wide Rosica Research Festival in September of that year. There, researchers from RIT and NTID set up displays and talked about their research activity, with the goal of expanding public awareness of the hall and its endeavors.

Now, over one year later, Rosica Hall is home to five distinct research centers, each with their own focus and funding including over $1 million in new grants since the building was opened. These include the Technological Education Center for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students (DeafTEC), Research on Employment and Adapting to Change (REACH), the Research Center for Teaching and Learning (RCTfL), the Collaboratory on Economic, Demographic and Policy Studies and the Deaf Studies Laboratory.

Additionally, the building contains a wide range of facilities: conference rooms, an ‘Imaginarium’ and even a meditation garden. The aforementioned centers and their administration are housed on the first floor, while the second floor contains laboratories and multi-purpose spaces.

Inside the Flex Space

Adaptability is a prominent aspect of the hall that has been emphasized by its proponents both before and after its completion.Gary Long emphasized the idea of “flexible space” and DeCaro repeated his original goals for the hall, calling it “a sandbox for research, a focus, a physical presence.”

HBT Architects kept this concept in mind for their space planning of Rosica Hall. Touchdown spaces with seating and tables are located at every turn. Wide hallways leave room for chance encounters and conversations, as well as extensive lines of sight from different vantage points in each space – a crucial aspect of ASL-friendly design. Brick walls and solidity have been all but rejected in favor of strong natural light and frosted glass partitions that allow curious onlookers to witness the silhouetted activity inside. These integral design elements came from a report of recommendations written by Phil Reuben, one of DeCaro's past Civil Engineering students who is now a successful architect. 

During original discussions with the architects on the project, accordion-style room dividers were considered but rejected in favor of simple internal walls that do not contain any electrical, plumbing or structural elements. That way, if a research facility receives grant money several years down the road, the spaces can be reconfigured to accommodate yet another research initiative or center.

When asked about whether or not there are any concerns regarding the loss of ‘flex space’ as grants are acquired and rooms are repurposed, DeCaro answered “Yes ... but it’s a problem that comes from success. I love that sort of thing.”

For now, there is plenty of flex space that comes with adaptable furniture as well. “All furnishings can be mixed and matched,” DeCaro said of the bright green, orange and purple furnishings as he pushed open the door to an interview room.

“And they have been!",  Long finished, surveying the now-empty room and laughing. “This used to have tables and chairs in it!”

Rosica Hall students and faculty alike have taken to ‘borrowing’ furniture and rearranging it freely to suit their purposes.

Students have also been quick to take advantage of the variety of writing surfaces in the hall, including movable whiteboards and walls with invisible coating that makes nearly every vertical surface a viable space for writing. Indeed, DeCaro and Long admitted with amusement, Rosica Hall students have become so accustomed to having the writable surfaces that the faculty have had to place signs on desks, tabletops and walls coated in regular sealants that specifically warn people that they are not included in the scope of writable surfaces.

Rearranging Research

Rosica Hall has also had an impact beyond the physical space it provides students and faculty. “This has been a complete change in the way that research is organized at NTID,” DeCaro said.

He cited Strategic Decisions 2020 as the essential foundation for making Rosica Hall not only a reality but also a success. “It really is the genesis,” DeCaro said.

The document was compiled by NTID in 2010 in the form of a 10-year plan that essentially serves as a road map for NTID. It explores "strategic initiatives" in student involvement, program development, cross-college communication and countless other critical components to foster innovation. By consolidating the efforts that were happening with varying levels of awareness all over NTID and RIT, Rosica Hall’s advocates gave research a place where it would be recognized.

For example, Ron Kelly, the REACH Center director, participates in work on stereotype threat and associated issues, which recently earned REACH a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. In another branch of research, DeafTEC focused on collaborating with high school and college students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields to promote best practices for their future employers and assist them as they graduate and enter the working world. From its first $4.5 million grant, DeafTEC has forged ties with seven different prestigious industry partners and is currently undergoing applications for further grant funding.

In relating Rosica Hall’s nontraditional research methods, DeCaro also spoke of the ‘teacher-scholar’ model that Rosica Hall promotes. “The idea is that your teaching informs your research, and your research informs your teaching.” That way, the center can explore and bring issues to attention that faculty feel RIT needs to address.

This concept is exemplified in the work of Carol Marchetti, whose Rosica Hall efforts take place in the Research Center for Teaching and Learning. Marchetti is a professor at both NTID and RIT’s College of Science, and currently teaches Introduction to Statistics I. Leading a team of tutors, interpreters and deaf students who have gone through the class, Marchetti is working to create video resources for students that foster and facilitate communication between deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing students and educators. Her teaching and research work on the best practices for teaching statistics concepts to deaf and hard-of-hearing students resulted in a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, and holds the potential to earn even more funding in the future .

Marchetti’s teaching methods include separating students into groups and forming ‘mixed’ teams of deaf, hearing and hard-of-hearing students. The groups are then encouraged to take advantage of Rosica Hall’s tools for communication, which include the rolling chairs that can be moved into circular formations for clear lines of sight, the portable whiteboards and the walls with coating.

“It changes the way they work together,” Marchetti said. “Standing, there’s just a different energy in the room. They’re more engaged that way.”

DeCaro indicated the whiteboards, commenting “This is low-tech but with a high-tech strategy!”

It seems that with Rosica Hall it’s not a question of what it has done so far, but rather where it’s going next. “People ask me, ‘What’s going on? What are you doing?’” DeCaro said, shaking his head with a laugh. “I tell them ‘Whoa, calm down.’”

He smiled. “We’re doing fine.”