Leading a New Generation of Change-Makers

What’s driving this university student to make the world a better place

Bobby M. | 21
Boston, Massachusetts

Bobby Moakley’s no stranger to the No Barriers Life. At 17, he was introduced to concepts like Reach and Pioneer while rafting and hiking through the Grand Canyon with a group of students, most of whom were deaf or hard of hearing.

The expedition was called Leading the Way and it connected students with National Park Service staff to explore the scientific understanding and appreciation of nature’s soundscapes and star-filled skies.

While the scenery wasn’t bad, the thing that Bobby remembers most was the feeling that he had finally found a community that understood him.

“That was the first time I’d been viewed not as someone who is deaf, but just someone who happens to be deaf,” he explained.

The reality was Bobby had been struggling. He saw himself as socially-awkward, unmotivated, isolated, and at risk of falling behind in school. He knew he wanted more for his life, and this Grand Canyon experience would prove to be the catalyst that would set on him the path the being to young leader he is today.




Bobby was born deaf, and even though he was given cochlear implants and placed in a school for deaf children, his curiosity and desire for knowledge urged him to seek a different path in his youth. Moving to a mainstream school presented new academic opportunities, but it didn’t solve for the limitations Bobby would face socially.

“While some peers scrutinized my disability, the majority of the low self-esteem and lack of confidence I experienced stemmed from myself,” he recalled.

Withdrawn and losing motivation, Bobby had started to view his hearing loss as a curse. Thanks to a friend introducing him to No Barriers, he found the tools he needed to shift his perspective. He saw how he and his peers have the power to change the world by working hard and not letting anything impose limitations on their lives.

A year after Bobby’s momentous Grand Canyon journey, he embarked on a second Leading the Way expedition—this time to Peru.


From visiting astonishing historical sites in the highlands to engaging in service projects and cross-cultural exchange activities with Peruvian deaf students, the expedition stirred a wide array emotions, including some unexpected ones.

“Up until my trip, I was oblivious to the lack of deaf support systems in Peru.”

A visit to San Francisco de Asis in Cusco, a school for the deaf, revealed the stark absence of accommodations for its students; the teachers were not trained in sign language and there was no real difference from the education hearing students received. Despite their disadvantages, Bobby noticed the students maintained a strong desire to thrive. The two groups shared stories about their lives and their dreams, all leaving inspired by the possibility of a future with endless opportunities.


The Peru expedition ended the day before Bobby moved into his college dorm to begin his freshman year at Rochester Institute of Technology, a school with a large deaf population. He connected instantly with others, sharing his experiences in Peru and inspiring them to want to raise awareness and help those in need.



This fall, Bobby will begin his fourth year at RIT as an environmental science major.

It’ll be a busy year, not only with thoughts of post-graduation plans, but also because he’s been elected RIT Student Government President as well as Chair of Rochester Intercollegiate Council (a representative board of all local colleges) for the academic year.

In addition to keeping up with classes and social activities, Bobby’s taken on some admirable extra-curricular work during his time at RIT.

He’s served as a fellow to the Ecological Society of America, conducting research and promoting diversity in the world of ecology, and he’s served as an Urban Fellow to Rochester, working with stakeholders in the Rochester community and other college students to provide solutions to complex urban issues.

Photo: Rochester Institute of Technology @rit_sg

His role in student government has been even more impactful. His accomplishments already read like a CV that will leave most post-grad candidates in the dust:


  • Establishment of Endowed Study Abroad Support Fund

    Raised $25,000 through RIT stakeholders to establish an endowed fund that will provide scholarship opportunities for RIT students to study abroad (two scholarships will be provided annually)

  • Integration of Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Hearing cultures on campus

    Designed an ongoing project designed to establish unity among all students on campus through a variety of initiatives, including teaching student government members sign language, advocating for deaf-friendly infrastructure throughout campus, working with deaf representative groups on campus to empower the voices of many, materializing leadership development resources for students, and enabling students to be proficient in self-advocacy

  • Chair of RIT Global Committee

    Led a committee that focuses on international collaborations between RIT campuses, integrating deaf culture and ASL knowledge to global campuses, and promote unity among all international students under one RIT community

  • Representation of marginalized student groups

    Working with students, staff and faculty to create a ‘bottom-up’ governance structure at RIT to ensure that all voices are heard, including working closely with “Representative Student Organizations” (ALANA, International, LGBTQIA+, Deaf/HoH and Athletic students) to ensure they are equipped with the resources to advocate for their respective communities

  • Chair of Rochester Intercollegiate Council

    Working with leaders from all of the colleges in the Greater Rochester area to enhance the student experience for all, tackling issues such as transportation for students, college/housing affordability, and student representation on a statewide level


Bobby Moakley’s come a long way from feeling like an outsider in high school to now representing more than 18,000 students on RIT campuses and speaking to audiences of thousands.

“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.”Bobby M.




In a few weeks, Bobby will be joining over 1,500 people for the No Barriers Summit New York City.

The Summit is a vibrant culmination of the No Barriers community of people from all walks of life who are determined to lead a No Barriers Life. This year’s event is asking attendees to explore their potential as change-makers and visionaries.

For Bobby, his vision is clear: he wants to create an environment that enables every single individual to succeed at their highest capabilities.

“I believe I am already on the right path to a life of purpose, but I hope to meet more people with similar values and ambitions to expand my community and find a stronger network in life.”



While his past No Barriers experiences have tended to focus on his growth as a deaf student, he acknowledges the influence they’ve also had on his interests in community engagement and science.

“The Grand Canyon is what exposed me to the natural science and motivated me to pursue Environmental Sciences and my ESA fellowship. The community and acceptance of No Barriers is what inspired me to act as an advocate for others and make the world a better place.”



Join Bobby at the No Barriers Summit New York City


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August 16, 2018
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