$4M NIH Award Expands Joint Training of Deaf Scholars in Rochester

Jun. 24, 2015
Steve Dewhurst, Ph.D., vice dean for research at UR

The University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry has received nearly $4 million for a program that would serve as a national model to educate post-doctoral students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

The grant makes it possible to expand and strengthen an ongoing, unique relationship between the UR, Rochester Institute of Technology and RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf to prepare deaf and hard-of-hearing scholars for careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. Two years ago the local institutions partnered to build a similar program for graduate students, facilitating the transition from master’s degree programs offered at RIT to Ph.D. programs at UR.

Once those students receive their advanced degrees, the latest grant allows the UR and RIT/NTID to develop a three-year mentored, post-doctoral research experience.

Peter Hauser, of RIT, with graduate students

“At the end of the program, the deaf and hard-of-hearing professionals who participate will be well-prepared to step into an academic career in the biomedical sciences,” said Steve Dewhurst, Ph.D., principal investigator and Vice Dean for Research at the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry. “This program not only ties into our broader theme of scientific workforce development, but it creates a specific pipeline for deaf and hard-of-hearing scientists to enter academy.”

Added NTID President Gerry Buckley, Ed.D: “It’s exciting to watch our collaboration grow to a degree that will definitely impact the careers of deaf and hard-of-hearing scholars, who are extremely under-represented in science careers beyond a master’s degree.”

Rochester has built a global reputation as a center for deaf and hard-of-hearing culture and education. In the last decade, collaborations between the UR, RIT/NTID and the deaf community have led to many pioneering projects through the UR’s National Center for Deaf Health Research (NCDHR). First-ever web videos, health directories and health surveys have been produced in American Sign Language, for example; and researchers are continually designing and conducting studies to promote wellness and health literacy among deaf individuals, using a model called community-based participatory research where deaf and hard-of-hearing professionals are involved in every aspect of each investigation.

The latest initiative is believed to be the first program of its kind dedicated to post-doctoral training in this population.

The project has several objectives. It will leverage a well-developed mentor/scholar program at the UR Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI) to define and meet career goals for each post-doctoral scholar. It also will attempt to boost deaf and hard-of-hearing cultural competency among UR faculty and their ability to effectively act as mentors. Finally, the program will develop academic teaching skills by providing mentored, practical experience through RIT/NTID and will measure the effectiveness of the training.

Peter Hauser, Ph.D., RIT director of the Rochester Bridges to the Doctorate program and Science Mentorship Leader for the NSF Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2), said it’s important to applaud the National Institutes of Health for recognizing the deaf and hard-of-hearing population as a minority group, and for finding ways to improve their participation in life sciences. Hauser will be the RIT program director for this post-doctoral fellowship.

"People who are deaf, like myself, are underrepresented in life science disciplines and few are applying for biomedical or behavioral science research grants,” said Hauser. “This project will help to rectify that circumstance."

Added Richard Doolittle, Vice Dean of RIT’s College of Health Sciences and Technology and a co-principal investigator on the project: “This grant is another section in a pipeline to prepare people who are deaf for careers in academic biomedical and behavioral research. RIT is well positioned to provide the instruction that is essential for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to hone their teaching skills. There is no better place for this than at a university that houses a college for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.”

More than a dozen individuals from all three institutions are involved in the project. Other key personnel include: PJ Simpson-Haidaris, Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine at UR and director of the Translational Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program at the CTSI, who will serve as the Rochester Partnership program training director; Steven L. Barnett, M.D., associate professor of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences at UR and director of the NCDHR, who will serve as the faculty liaison and recruitment/admissions committee co-chair; Camille A. Martina, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Public Health Sciences and Environmental Medicine at UR, who will serve as program evaluator and co-chair of the career development committee; and Susan Foster, Ph.D. from RIT, who will serve as the teaching coordinator to support the development of the deaf and hard-of-hearing scholars.

The NIH award is for $3.96 million, with $384,000 of the total going toward the consortium with RIT/NTID.

Thomas A. Pearson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., conceived of the idea several years ago to build skills and new opportunities for deaf scholars in a partnership with RIT/NTID. He was the principal investigator on several grants before leaving the University of Rochester in 2013 to become executive vice president for Research and Education at the University of Florida Health Sciences Center.