Bobby Moakley, Rochester Institute of Technology’s new Student Government president, thinks every student should feel welcomed at RIT, regardless of what their interests are, where they are from or their beliefs.
That’s one goal Moakley, a fourth-year environmental science major from Boston, and Vice President Corinne Mendieta, a fifth-year mechanical engineering technology major from Olney, Maryland, have for the coming year. They also plan to make sure students have the tools they need to succeed, including transportation, resources such as the free textbook library and finding funding for projects.
“We want to enhance the culture of creativity and innovation at RIT,” Moakley said. “We want to enable students to create what they came to RIT for, whether it is artwork or a new medicine.”
Other ideas planned for this year include adding two more vans for club and organization use, a bike sharing program in the fall and a charging station installed in the Student Government office to encourage students to drop by if they need to charge a phone or laptop. Free popcorn will still be available to visitors.
He also wants to have more direct communication with student organizations representing international students, ALANA students, student athletes, LGBTQ students and deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
“Student Government never had a formal working relationship with them. I’d like to work closely with those representative student organizations,” Moakley said. “They are representatives for entire groups of demographics on campus.”
Two years ago, Moakley first joined Student Government as the cross-registered senator from RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf and served as Student Government vice president in 2017.
Moakley is not worried about representing more than 18,000 students on RIT campuses or giving a talk in front of thousands of people.
“I’ve taken a few public speaking courses, so I know how to maneuver the nerves,” Moakley said.
Born deaf, Moakley received his first cochlear implant and began learning sign language before he was 2. He used oral speech before coming to college, but said he picked up sign language again as soon as he came to RIT. He prefers to speak orally, but is happy to use sign language more now that he is on campus. He knows there’s a wide range of communication preferences on campus among the students supported by NTID.
“People should feel comfortable using what communication they prefer, and everyone should respect people’s choices,” Moakley said. “That’s one reason I wanted to come to RIT, there is this open and accepting feeling and a good mixture of deaf and hearing students. Here is a place I could have both of that.”
Moakley is the third deaf student to become RIT’s Student Government president. The first two were Lizzie Sorkin in 2006-07 and Greg Pollock from 2010 to 2012.
Moakley is uncertain what he’ll do after he graduates. He’d love to become a photojournalist for National Geographic or work with the U.N. in international affairs.
“People now are unwilling to cooperate with other countries and letting imaginary boundaries dictate the way they live,” Moakley said. “How do you expect to fix an issue when you don’t talk with the people living next to you? We’re all living on one planet.”
He’s spending his summer working on a fellowship for Project HOPE — Health Outcomes Through Participation, Education and Engagement — and the Genesee Valley Land Trust, helping residents in northeast Rochester make connections to improve their community and finding ways to preserve the environment.
His great uncle was Joe Moakley, a Boston congressman for 28 years who died in 2001 and had several buildings in Boston named after him.
Moakley said he hasn’t ruled out a political career in the future.
“I guess there’s a little inspiration from him behind it,” Moakley said.
He said he uses time management effectively to juggle his work, classes, volunteering and Student Government responsibilities. He usually has several meetings a day and stays up late into the night to make sure everything gets done.
“Some days I may be tired and feel fed up with it, but then I realize I love all the work I’ve been doing,” Moakley said. “I couldn’t think of anything better I could be doing with my time.”
Moakley hopes more students decide to become active by joining a committee or attending one of the meetings the Student Government cabinet holds from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Fridays in the Bamboo Room, beginning the last week in August. The meetings are open to everyone.
“I hope students feel they can contact Student Government if they have anything on their mind,” Moakley said. “No issue is too small.”