Sponsored by the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation
Todd Pagano admits it’s hokey, but he has a tough time looking back over his career and not thinking of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” Just like the poem’s narrator, Pagano stood at a crossroads in 2002. Already a research assistant at Tufts University, Pagano had just been offered a faculty position at Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). Pagano knew that teaching at a school for the deaf and hard of hearing would be a challenge, especially because he was not conversant in sign language. But the opportunity to learn a new language while building a chemistry program was just too enticing to pass up. Pagano took the job, and nine years later, he couldn’t be happier. “I chose this challenging path where I had to learn sign language and immerse myself into a new culture,” Pagano says before paraphrasing the narrator from Frost’s poem: “I think it did make all the difference in the world for me.”
Pagano’s decision has also affected hundreds of NTID students who have taken classes through the Laboratory Science Technology (LST) program that he put together in 2002. With its emphasis on applied, hands-on lab work, the program has been instrumental in facilitating a “staggering” number of job and internship placements, says Annemarie D. Ross, an instructor in the science and mathematics department at NTID. What’s more, says Ross, a majority of Pagano’s students are female and “about one-third of his students are from traditionally underrepresented groups,” such as the African American, Native American, and Latin American communities.
Nelsy M. Carcamo was one such student. A native of Honduras and hard of hearing, Carcamo arrived at NTID feeling “uncomfortable.” Her primary language was Spanish, and she did not yet know sign language. But that discomfort soon evaporated when Carcamo joined the LST program. “Professor Pagano immediately made me feel like I had an academic home,” she remembers. Before long, Carcamo was not only succeeding in her classes, she was also presenting her research at conferences, including the 2009 spring ACS national meeting in Salt Lake City. In 2011, Carcamo received a bachelor’s degree from RIT, where she was also recently accepted into graduate school. Carcamo is the first member in her extended family to receive a college degree.
For fostering success stories such as Carcamo’s, Pagano has been honored with many awards including the 2005 Richard & Virginia Eisenhart Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from RIT and the 2008 Stanley C. Israel Northeast Regional Award for Advancing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences from ACS. He was elected an ACS Fellow in 2011.
Outside of his collegiate activities, Pagano promotes science career exploration among middle school and high school students through a variety of RIT-sponsored activities including the National Science Fair for Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Students, the TechGirlz summer camp, the Steps to Success summer camp, and the Explore Your Future program. He is coeditor of the Journal of Science Education for Students with Disabilities and a member of the ACS Committee on Chemists with Disabilities.
Pagano, who is 37, will present the award address before the ACS Division of Professional Relations.