Dr. Tilak Ratnanather is recognized as a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring for his challenging and successful work in recruiting and mentoring an unprecedented number of deaf and hard-of-hearing (HOH) individuals into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Dr. Ratnanather was the first congenitally deaf person to earn an undergraduate degree in mathematics from University College, London in 1985. In 1989 he became the first ever congenitally deaf individual in the world to graduate with a doctorate in mathematics, which he earned from the University of Oxford. His interest in post-doctoral research in the auditory sciences brought him to Baltimore, Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Ratnanather’s research interests include mathematical models for image analysis of brain structures implicated in a variety of neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.
There is a simple and powerful objective for Dr. Ratnanather’s mentoring programs: to provide opportunities for education and research in STEM for deaf and HOH individuals who may not have otherwise been exposed to STEM, and to achieve this objective through extensive and involved networking so that his protégés can later serve as mentors themselves.
The lack of accommodations for the deaf and HOH at annual meetings of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) led Dr. Ratnanather to begin his work to recruit deaf and HOH students and provide the accommodation that allows them to participate in professional meetings. His success is clearly documented: In 1991, there were only two deaf and HOH individuals pursuing studies in the auditory sciences: one graduate student and Dr. Ratnanather himself. In 2015, there are ten such individuals who are faculty members in the auditory sciences, with more than fifteen pursuing graduate degrees in auditory sciences and five pursuing or having pursued degrees in medicine.
Dr. Ratnanather has personally mentored 13 deaf or HOH students in both STEM and medical school programs (five of whom are pursuing careers in medicine). His mentoring work includes 20 hearing female students, all of whom have pursued doctoral degrees in STEM. The Johns Hopkins Office of Academic Advising regularly asks Dr. Ratnanather to be a mentor for incoming deaf or HOH undergraduate students.
Dr. Ratnanather’s activities include:
• establishment of the Hearing Impaired- Association for Research in Otolaryngology group in 1992 (currently 50 members);
• service on the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AGBell) College Financial Aid Committee since 1996 (Chair from 2005 to the present);
• began online forums and social media networks to connect deaf and HOH students to AGBell resources;
• service in the Disabled Scientists and Engineers Section of the AAAS since 1986;
• service as co-chair of the Research Symposium at the biennial International Convention of AGBell since 2005; and
• collaboration on a database to connect scientists at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) with deaf and HOH
Dr. Ratnanather has been awarded postdoctoral fellowships by the National Science Foundation and the Royal Society of London-Australian Academy of Sciences. He has participated in numerous colloquia and given invited presentations in major academic and medical centers around the world. His publications (books, chapters, editorials, and peer-reviewed papers) are extensive.