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NTID grad prepares for Navy work

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - May 31, 2004

By Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(May 31, 2004) — Philip Graham embarked on a new chapter of his life four years ago, when he left home for the first time and moved five states away to attend college.

”When I first came here, I was nervous,” Graham, 23, said just before graduating last week from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. “I didn’t know what’s next.”

Now a fresh college graduate, Graham feels a similar anxiety.

”RIT is like a home, I don’t want to leave,” he said. “At the same time, I realize I have to move on with my life.”

More than 90 percent of the 324 deaf and hard-of-hearing graduates at RIT this year are expected to be employed within a year. Graham, of Rockford, Ill., already has his eyes on a machinist job at the Naval Air Depot in Cherry Point, N.C. The Depot is seeking more and more students who have learned machining skills at NTID to manufacture aircraft parts.

”I’m so proud,” said his mother, Carolyn Lewis, of Rockford, who came to Rochester to attend her son’s graduation.

Graham lost his hearing when he fell and struck his head when he was 4 years old. His family didn’t know there was anything wrong with his hearing until years later, when a teacher told them.

”We thought he was really slow,” his mother said.

In 1992, Lewis and her five children moved from their native Antigua to the United States for more opportunities.

Lewis, a single mother who works two jobs, says she never worried about the future for her children.

”I leave them in God’s hands,” she said. And she never hesitated reminding her children to do the best they can.

”We came here to be better,” she said. “We’re not here to fool around. We’re here to make life better.”

Graham knew some basic sign language when he came to Rochester but admits he wasn’t ready for the sea of flying hands that welcomed him at RIT. He soon became fluent in sign language and now uses it when he speaks.

But communication was not the biggest adjustment for Graham.

”The hardest part was trying to pick the right friends,” he said. “And getting up early in the morning for class.”

Coincidentally, a friend of Lewis’ from Antigua, Marie-Therese Martin, lives in Rochester now and kept close tabs on Graham.

”She is like a second mother to him,” Lewis said.

In school, Graham originally wanted to be a construction worker. Since he excelled in math, a teacher suggested he work in computer integrated machining technology.

He completed two 10-week co-ops with the Navy and is happy to be going back.

”I love it,” Graham said. “The work environment … they treat you like you’re part of the family.”

Sidney McQuay, an associate professor at NTID, said the Naval Air Depot has been soliciting more students each year to build specialized parts for planes and helicopters.

”They’re in dire need of people with these skills,” McQuay said. “The average age of a tool and die maker there is 47 years. Fifty percent of those people are eligible for retirement.”

Deafness has not been an issue with machinists at the Naval Air Depot.

”I always say, ‘Let’s hire them not for their ears, but what’s in between their ears,’ “ McQuay said.

Jim Liesse, a machinist trainer in Cherry Point who has been Graham’s supervisor, believes Graham “would be a good asset. He has good machining skills, is a very hard worker, he’s dependable and has a great attitude. That just went so far with us, just his positive attitude.”

Another deaf machinist, Ben Johnson, a 1982 NTID graduate, works full time at the Depot. Liesse said notes can be jotted down or interpreters hired to help communication if needed. Sign-language classes are also offered to those who may work with deaf employees there.

NTID also conducts workshops for employers upon request, helping them integrate deaf and hard-of-hearing employees into the workplace.

”First-time employers are apprehensive,” said Allen Vaala, director of the Center on Employment at NTID. “Then they find out the barrier isn’t three feet high, it’s three inches high.”

Copyright 2004 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.



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