Full steam ahead for Imagine RIT

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One of Imagine RIT’s goals is to engage youth—middle and high school students—with science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. (Photos in this article courtesy of RIT)

Imagine RIT’s mission has moved beyond being a showcase for Rochester Institute of Technology’s assets. It has become a much-anticipated venue to display creative solutions to problems.

“It’s all about student ingenuity,” says Bob Finnerty, RIT chief communications officer/associate vice president and an organizer of the festival. “We like to say that we put a high value on bringing goodness to the world with special projects. The students deliver every year. Imagine RIT offers an opportunity to put a stake in the ground—to identify the university with creativity and innovation.”

Barry Culhane, chairman of Imagine RIT since its inception, believes the event has met with success because it creates a “win-win” for everyone involved. Families get to experience the festival at no cost, students develop presentation skills and share their projects, while other patrons delve into knowledge across disciplines.

“The enthusiasm of our students, faculty and staff as presenters and volunteers and the traditions developed over 12 years of Imagine RIT make the day worth placing on the family spring calendar,” Culhane says. “Sponsors of the festival often stepped up because they would like to help advance technological developments, promote creativity and innovation, and help students who may someday have their cooperative work experiences at the sponsors’ company.”

Roughly 30,000 visitors are expected when 400 exhibits will be open to the public on April 27.

The brainchild of former RIT president Bill Destler, the festival marks its 12thyear on April 27. Roughly 30,000 visitors are expected that Saturday when 400 exhibits will be open to the public. The exhibits, Finnerty says, are diverse. For instance, Virtual Bugs: Imaging Insects in 3D is an imaging science freshman project to create a system that uses multicamera imaging techniques. These methods develop detailed 3D computer models of insects that will be used by zoo researchers to create virtual reality simulations of the bugs’ natural habitat.

This year, in line with its problem-solving focus, Imagine RIT will feature a symposium titled “The Future of Technology, the Arts and Design.” It is an opportunity to learn what RIT alumni envision for the next 50 years as it relates to technology, the arts and design and how we can leverage its power for the greater good, officials say. RIT’s futurists are Melanie Shapiro, CEO of Token; Tom Connor, vice president of creative marketing for the Walt Disney Co.; celebrity photographer Kwaku Alston; and RIT student and clean-energy entrepreneur Brandon Hudson

Another new event this year is a talk by Leigh Rubin, a national cartoonist who has drawn Rubes for more than three decades, will explain his creative process. Rubin will be joined by Mike Johansson, a senior lecturer at RIT’s School of Communication, in an open-ended discussion on Rubin’s curiosity and how it feeds into his creativity.

After making its debut last year, Imagine RIT once again will feature RIT president David Munson’s Performing Arts Competition, an effort to highlight talent in the field. These events support Imagine RIT’s goals, Finnerty says, which still hold true:

  • Engage youth—middle and high school students—with science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. “We want to show them that STEAM can be fun,” Finnerty says.
  • Engage the 35,000 RIT alumni in Greater Rochester to bring them back to campus and to show them the university’s momentum.
  • Internally, the festival is a great tool for the different academic disciplines to see what each is working on, converge and come up with some multidisciplinary projects. 
  • Showcase RIT students to business and industry leaders. “We look at Imagine RIT as catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship and a launching pad to jump-start ideas, products, services, and student-led ventures,” Finnerty says.

When Destler conceived the idea in 2007, he hoped to bring people across age groups and walks of life to celebrate and experience science and technology on RIT’s campus. 

“I wasn’t even sure if it would make it through the first year with President Destler’s great new idea of showing off everything creative and innovative our students and their teams do together,” Culhane recalls.

But Imagine RIT has demonstrated staying power. Munson has embraced the idea upon Destler’s retirement, Finnerty says. Not just that, he added another dimension that highlights RIT’s work in the arts.

“President Munson likes to say that ‘RIT prides itself in preparing our graduates to be citizens of the world,’” Finnerty says. “That means preparing our students not just for jobs and careers, but also for life. In the RIT context, ‘innovation’ takes on a rich meaning; it is not just about novelty or originality; it is about creating the tools, processes, and systems that will make things better than they are. You will find this at work at Imagine RIT.”

For Rochester, a city known for its innovative streak, it is a day to soak in and experience new ideas.

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