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A Remarkable UMSL Trilogy: Meet the Haugen Family

(left to right) Connor Haugen(’21), Katie Haugen, Dr. Kelsey Haugen(’17), Dr. Scott Haugen(’84), and Patti Haugen

One of the first memories I (Ed Bennett) had as a new faculty member at UMSL in August 1982 was seeing work study student Scott Haugen (’84) carrying boxes from one room to another which – to me – was symbolic of how the initial, the Class of 1984, essentially helped to build the College.  Scott was a professor’s dream:  dedicated, respectful, and born to be successful in private practice.  Of course, when he did make the decision to pursue optometry, he was actually taking a risk by applying to UMSL as he relates: “I was a 19-year-old kid as a sophomore at Iowa State. I just wanted to get into optometry school and was told I should start applying as soon as I had completed all of the prerequisites. There were only 15 schools at the time and the closest was ICO in Chicago. I applied there and then heard that a school might be opening in St. Louis, so I applied, even though the application was stamped in red letters ‘This application is void if the school does not open.’ I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the inaugural class and to be part of a very special experience.”

Upon graduation, Dr. Haugen established a private practice in Fort Collins, Colorado, and has practiced there for over 30 years. He and his wife Patti raised their three children there.  He felt his UMSL education greatly helped him in transitioning to private practice: “The education was top notch and gave me the tools to go out and be confident when I joined a private practice after graduation and then to go on and build a practice of my own.”

However, to UMSL’s benefit, Dr. Haugen was an excellent role model to others, including his own family.  His daughter, Dr. Kelsey Haugen (’17), benefitted from observing her father's practice as she relates: “Optometry was always an option in the back of my mind, watching my dad practice growing up. I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, caring for people and establishing relationships. I was interested in pursuing medical school until I realized that the schooling, residency, and fellowship path required may not align with my personal goals and aspirations. Optometry school and the career path offered a more desirable schedule and would allow me to find a good work-life balance. I wanted to have a great career that was exciting and satisfying, while also having a family.”

Kelsey, however, was not your average child of an optometrist.  She left home to attend Arizona State University, where she worked as many as four jobs to support her education. This included as many as 30 hours a week in a surgeon’s office and, during the spring, also working in marketing for the Colorado Rockies.  This incredible work ethic did not go unnoticed when she made the decision to pursue optometry at UMSL.  However, her journey to optometry was not a straight line: “I worked at a large surgeons’ office as a scheduling secretary. It was here that my opinion about medical school changed. While doing work for my honors thesis, I interviewed several successful women in various medical fields, focusing on work-life balance and the struggle many women in medicine face. In particular, I interviewed a female surgeon at our office who had finished her fellowship two years prior. When asked about her decision to pursue medical school and her satisfaction with her career choice, her answer surprised me. Looking back, she would not choose the career path again; she was 39, pregnant with her first child, and trying to establish herself in her specific field of medicine. It was not the life she had intended, and her career took priority over personal goals. That was the turning point for me. I could not imagine sacrificing my personal goals and desires for a family to pursue a career. Optometry it was.” 

She was pleased in her decision to choose UMSL for her optometric training and it is safe to say – after graduating in May with many honors (see article on graduation awards) – the College of Optometry is very pleased she chose our institution.  She relates: “I chose UMSL because of the people that make up the college and the feeling I had after my interview. Everyone says it, but it truly is a family, and the feeling is contagious. The class size is small, which was appealing for a variety of reasons. I knew it was an environment in which I could succeed. I grew up visiting St. Louis and had family in the area, which was also appealing.”

And she feels her decision to attend UMSL has prepared her well, as she married her long-time best friend Tyler Hensen on June 16th and will soon begin her residency program at the VA Medical Center at Fayetteville, AR. “UMSL provided a well-rounded optometric education. One of the greatest strengths of the program was the variety of externships available. This allowed for a personalized clinical experience and an opportunity to focus on specific areas of interest. My education and clinical experience provided me the opportunity to be a competitive candidate for residency positions.” She has a proud father as well: “I couldn't be prouder of Kelsey and am excited for her to move on to her residency program. I always knew that she possessed the ability to thrive in whatever she decided to do. I have already started to tap into her vast knowledge base to enhance my ability to provide the highest standard of care to my patients. I look forward to her returning to Colorado and joining me in my practice.”

Drs. Kelsey Haugen(’17), and Scott Haugen(’84)
It is evident that Dr. Scott Haugen also had a significant impact on Kelsey’s younger brother Connor, who – unlike Kelsey – was motivated to pursue optometry at a young age as he relates: “I became interested in optometry first just by being exposed to the field in my father’s practice—I saw how happy all of my father’s patients were, the relationships his career allowed him to build, and the joy my father got in finding a beneficial solution for particularly tricky situations. As I grew up, I reflected on this information and came to realize that a career in optometry would satisfy most every desire I have in a career like it did for my father. Examples of these desires include a desire to help others, think critically, and build meaningful, lasting relationships.”

Connor, who followed his father’s footsteps at Iowa State University where he was a student leader and graduated with honors, will be entering UMSL in the fall as a member of the Class of 2021. He is excited and very cognizant of the great support system provided by his family. “I chose UMSL for many reasons, but most notably I was drawn to pick UMSL because of the family-like atmosphere that I felt during my interview. In addition, I liked the idea of having a smaller class size in terms of educational opportunities as well as social ones. As I approach the next four years, I am excited about continuing what could be called 'The Haugen Legacy.' Both my father and sister set the bar high and I look forward to doing the same. I am excited to be moving to St. Louis as it undoubtedly offers a unique and vast array of experiences. Overall, I would say that although I am aware of the impending, rigorous academic challenge, I am also well aware that I have one of the best support systems one could ask for in my father and sister.”  And his sister is excited about Connor’s decision to pursue optometry: “I think it's great! He is incredibly smart and I would be honored to work with him.”

It is apparent that the Haugen family will continue to be very close in the years ahead as Scott is transitioning toward a future where he will have the opportunity to work with Kelsey and Connor: “I am currently in the process of merging my practice with another practice in order to create the best opportunity for Kelsey to join me when she completes her residency and then allow Connor to join us as I implement my exit strategy. It is my hope that my kids will carry on with what I have built and enjoy practicing optometry as much as I have over the past 33 years.”

Assistant Dean Ed Bennett with Dr. Scott Haugen (’84)


  1. Scott, congratulations on your family's continuing laegacy in our profession. Reading the article really takes me back to those day when it seemed the school was just a step ahead of us in creating our program.


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