Fresno State gets $1.5 million gift for Silent Garden

The Fresno BeeJanuary 25, 2013 

Joseph S. Slotnick lost his hearing at age 3 but went on to become the fifth deaf person to graduate from Harvard University and to have a successful computer engineering career.

Slotnick, who credits his parents for his success, now is helping deaf children have opportunities of their own by giving $1.5 million to the Silent Garden program in the Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies department at Fresno State.

"My parents struggled long and hard to give me, a completely deaf person, the quality education I had," he said. "If they had had access to more available information they may have helped me more, and they would not have struggled so much. Owing so much to them I feel that my contribution is giving back to the community and helping it as much as possible. It is also a real good reason to pay homage to their memory."

On Friday, Fresno State officials said Slotnick's gift establishes the Joseph S. Slotnick Distinguished Professorship in the Silent Garden, a position that will bring experts in deaf studies from around the country to share their expertise.

"We can get the best and the brightest in deaf education," said Andrew Hoff, dean of the College of Health and Human Services.

Slotnick's donation comes a year after retired architect, vineyard owner and piano player Robert Duncan Nicol, who also is deaf, gave $2 million.

The two donations add to the Campaign for Fresno State, an initiative to raise $200 million for scholarships, faculty, programs and buildings. The campaign is the largest formal effort in the university's history. Fresno State plans to conclude the campaign this spring. "We're doing very well," said Fresno State spokeswoman Kathleen Schock.

Slotnick, 80, had a long career in computer programming and systems analysis and was involved with the development of the TTY telecommunication device for the deaf and hard of hearing, Fresno State officials said.

A Northridge resident, Slotnick said there were many reasons for his decision to give to the Silent Garden, but key among them: a friendship of more than 40 years with Paul Ogden, a Fresno State professor emeritus who established The Silent Garden at Fresno State.

Ogden, who was born deaf, is the author of "The Silent Garden: Raising Your Deaf Child."

Slotnick said Ogden and the people behind the program for the deaf at Fresno State "have done a great deal to make the program as successful as it is."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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