by Rich Kiley
After growing up in a small upstate New York town with a population that would barely fill some college lecture halls, one nearing RIT graduate is about to move to and work at a company many believe to be the epicenter of the technology world.
Barbara Pitts, a fourth-year imaging and photographic technology major from Antwerp, N.Y., near Watertown, is headed to Apple after crossing the stage at Gordon Field House. But she isn’t the only one. Griffin Kettler, a fourth-year student in the program from Warwick, N.Y., was hired after meeting with Apple representatives at an RIT career fair earlier this year.
“I come from a very tiny town with a population around 700 and most people don’t ever make it out or go to college,” Pitts said. She credits her “Apple appeal” to a love for photography that grew even stronger when she began attending RIT as an advertising photography major. Pitts then took a strong turn toward the technical side when she decided to take a class with Nitin Sampat, associate professor of imaging and photographic technology in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences.
“After taking the (imaging systems) minor with Nitin and learning more about the technical details of photography, I fell in love with cameras: how they work, how they’re built, and how to make a camera take better images, so I officially switched to photo tech at the beginning of my third year,” Pitts recalled.
Fast forward to her meeting with a team of interviewers from the Cupertino, Calif.-based makers of revolutionary products like the Mac, iPhone, iPod and iPad: Pitts learned that Apple had specifically sought her out on LinkedIn due to her affinity toward photography— including her work as a freelancer and the time she spent in darkrooms and photo studios back in her hometown—combined with her strong yearning to discover the technological workings of the camera.
“This artistic background in photography coupled with courses I’ve taken here like imaging systems, electronic sensitometry (image quality testing), programming and other imaging science classes like vision and psychophysics and testing of focal plane arrays really made me marketable,” Pitts said.
Her academic and experiential mix combined with a co-op that Pitts landed last summer with Ricoh in Boulder, Colo., particularly caught Apple’s eye.
“I was working with a team of electrical engineers conducting psychophysical experiments to help better some algorithms that they were using in relation to printers and image quality,” Pitts said. “I think this co-op along with my ability to understand both the technical aspects of imaging, image quality, and that I also understand pictures from a photographer’s point of view are what made Apple want to hire me most.”
Kettler originally pursued a major in fine art photography at New York’s School of Visual Arts before transferring to RIT’s imaging and photographic technology program.
Sampat, who has taught at RIT for two decades, is particularly pleased this May that two of the six graduating students from the imaging and photographic technology program are headed to the Bay area—joining a swiftly growing number of RIT grads in the Silicon Valley.
“Both Barbie and Griffin are very talented and hard-working students and have both served as my teaching assistants; I am extremely proud of their achievements,” Sampat said. “The two of them are unique in their abilities but also serve to exemplify the unique nature of the majors that RIT offers.”
“They will bring together the creative side from their fine arts background and couple that with applied, technical and analytical skills they learned in their major at RIT to help employers like Apple improve their (imaging) products,” Sampat added. “Hats off to Apple for recognizing their unique strengths.”
Pitts will be a camera-tuning engineer, while Kettler will serve as a camera quality assurance engineer.
“Our graduating class this year for our major is only six people—and it’s a very niche field—so it’s just great that both Griffin and I have earned this opportunity after working so hard,” Pitts added.