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UMSL Students Flourish: Receive Awards, Honors, and Leadership Positions at Optometry's Meeting

In the College of Optometry’s 37-year history it is very likely that UMSL pride has never been more evident than it was June 21 – 25 in Washington, D.C. at Optometry’s Meeting. UMSL dominated the honors awarded to students and won the respect of the 2,300 students nationwide who were in attendance.  Want proof?

How about this:
1. Recipient of one of  AOSA's highest honors: "The Spirit Award"
2. Two recipients of the College being awarded a first place $15,000 scholarship in a highly competivie national competition
3. One UMSL student elected as the National Liaison to the AOA Contact Lens and Cornea Section
4. One UMSL student was selected as one of two finalists for AOSA National President (the election will be held at a later date).

UMSL’s presence was made known at the very beginning of the meeting when Kate Hamm (’19) was selected to perform the National Anthem at the Opening Ceremony of Optometry’s Meeting.  It just continued to get better.  The Spirit Award, given annually at the Essilor Optometry Student Bowl, honors the College whose students demonstrate outstanding spirit and energy, as well as creativity and originality of their costumes for the event.  Aided by the remarkable number of students who traveled to Washington, D.C. – approximately 70 – UMSL came prepared to not only cheer on their exceptional representative for the Student Bowl, Ramya Natarajan (’18) but demonstrated remarkable sportsmanship as they cheered for all of the colleges during the event.  It did not go unnoticed as Taylor Dahms ('18) comments: “Optometry’s Meeting with AOA was exhilarating! We were able to join together, have the time of our lives cheering on all of the contestants, and  . . . hearing them describe the reasons for winning was truly the best part as they stated the students of UMSL were kind and respectful, present the entire event, and cheered for every single team competing. Although we may not have been the largest school there, we definitely put forth the most effort. We started the event believing every student on stage worked hard to be up there and deserved our support just as much as our amazing contestant, Ramya, who represented us incredibly!”  They also had the right theme accompanied by the appropriate costume as Rachel Simpson (’19) relays: “Amanda Hargrove's clever theme of Eye School Musical got us all in the spirit.”  Kate Hamm (’19) agrees: “Every person loved our theme and fully took it upon themselves to cheer consistently.”

However, as Karen Carpenter sang so beautifully in 1970, “We’ve Only Just Begun”.  For students’ nationwide an extremely important and meaningful event is the awarding of two large scholarships via Project Foresight, the Walmart and Sam’s Club Health & Wellness optometry scholarship competition.  Students create their own two-member teams to compete for a $1,500 team scholarship in their region and the chance to travel to the 2017 Optometry’s Meeting to compete for the first place – a $15,000 team scholarship and second place – $5,000 team scholarship.

Teams are asked to design an optometric practice that impacts their community. The practice must demonstrate how it will promote the profession of optometry as well as respect for the individual, service to customers, excellence and integrity.  Kate Hamm (’19), and Rachel Simpson (’19) were honored as one of the eight teams invited to D.C.  They had a very good plan that is very close to their hearts and addresses an important inequity, as Rachel explains: “Winning Project Foresight was a huge validation for me. Our whole proposal was designed to combat wage inequality in optometry; and that's the purpose of the club we started (United Optometrists Association), to promote workplace equality for all ODs. So it was our goal to get a huge corporation like Walmart to embrace our ideas and thereby move the mission forward. Winning doesn't mean our work is finished, especially when some optometrists are being shorted $40k a year because they face multiple factors of discrimination. But winning does get the message out there and bring more people into the conversation. Kate and I are looking forward to some upcoming interviews and raising awareness even more. We hope any optometrist who watches our video on the UMSL College of Optometry Facebook page will think of some ways they can make constructive changes to make their own workplace more equal. Even small changes help us grow as a profession.”  Kate agrees: “Rachel and I are so passionate about closing the wage gap, and making optometry an inclusive and equal profession that we were immediately drawn to Project Foresight and the opportunity for us to share our idea. We work tirelessly at school to share this message, so being able to share our passion at a national level was incredible!”

UMSL students are truly a family who pull for one another so it was no surprise that a great majority of the students were present for the ceremony.  After honoring all eight finalists, it came time to announce the runner-up and grand prize recipients.  When the Project Foresight spokesperson initiated the description of the winning proposal the smiles that gradually formed on the faces of our students was only equaled by the reaction of Rachel Simpson as she buried her face into her hands.  Then when the names were announced the room absolutely erupted.   The prestige that this award brings to UMSL is exceeded only by what this award means to the cause that prompted the submission of the proposal.  Within a few days of receiving this honor Kate and Rachel have had multiple requests from the media to discuss their project and bring more recognition to an extremely important cause.

And it did not end there.  Taylor Dahms (’18), who has exhibited an almost unparalleled passion for contact lenses since entering the College of Optometry, was recently named the National Liaison for the Contact Lens and Cornea Section of the AOA.  Her efforts were especially appreciated at OM where she ran from Section Council meetings to symposia, providing valuable input to the Section Council while also coordinating the audience response system for the Council’s Clinical Controversies course.  And she loved it. “It was very inspiring to see some of our greatest leaders in the field deliberate on the proceedings for the upcoming year and see their passion behind every decision they make. It was encouraging to see the industry members come to the council looking how best to help optometry as a whole and how to help strengthen all relationships to work together for a common goal. The greatest part of being involved on the council this year in particular was being able to see our Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Ed Bennett, be installed as the Chair of the Contact Lens and Cornea Section of the AOA. It is a privilege to be able to work beside one of the most influential members in the field and be able to continue learning throughout this next year.”

Due credit has to be given to Clinical Assistant Professor Erin Brooks (’11) who – in her role with OM as coordinating student monitors – used a large number of UMSL students as monitors. All of them received travel grants allowing them to attend.  Many students and student leaders were also able to obtain travel grants.  Overall, it was an exceptional meeting. Dean Larry Davis, who attended most of the student activities, was understandably proud.  “The UMSL Optometry family shined bright in 2017. First and foremost, students led the way with outstanding individual and collective accomplishments and contributions to the meeting. 
Beyond that, faculty were engaged in committees and special assignments, including Dr Erin Brooks, who led a team of students serving as monitors for the program and events. Also, Dr. Bennett began a term as Chair of the Section on Cornea and Contact Lenses. Many alumni served as speakers, including Dr. Shane Kannarr (00’), who encouraged those in attendance to differentiate themselves by offering premium products for their patients." Way to go UMSL!

Rachel Simpson and Kate Hamm 


The Class of 2019 (with the exception of Kate Hamm and Rachel Simpson who were at the Foresight Competition)

The Class of 2020

(left to right): Carolyn Draude (’18), Theresa Crowley (’18), Taylor Dahms (’18), Assistant Dean Ed Bennett,
Ramya Nararajan (’18), Caitlyn Reynolds (’18), Dr. Marie Oliver (’17), and Amanda Hargrove (’19)

 Dean Larry Davis sharing a moment with Incoming AOA President Chris Quinn and his wife,
Susan who were so kind to stop by the reception

(left to right): President-Elect of the MOA: Dr. Tom Cullinane (‘96), Dean Larry Davis, Dr. Joseph Rich, and Dr. Jeff Weaver

Dean Larry Davis, Dr. Julie O’Neal (’98), and Assistant Dean Ed Bennett

(left to right): Assistant Dean Ed Bennett, Clinical Assistant Professor Erin Brooks, Dr. Jourdyn Smarker (’17), Dr. Coral Pucci (’17), and Dr. Marie Oliver (’17)

(left to right):  Assistant Dean Ed Bennett, Lacie Spagnola (’20), Jessica Broodryk (’20), Kelly Cochran (’20), Jane Lakayll (’20), and Patrick Fiddler (’20)

(left to right):  Abigail Smith (’20), Patrick Fiddler (’20), Justin Groennert (’20), Matt McCoy (’20), Quinn Gallen (’20), and Ben Wehner (’19)

   (left to right): Kara Hoff (’19), Amanda Hargrove (’19), and Carolyn Draude (’18)

(left to right): Madison Moss (’20), Lauren Ward (’20), and Amanda Adkisson (’20)

(left to right):  Maria Nguyen(’20), Jackie Hinderks (’20), and Katlyn Peterson (’20)

Dean Larry Davis with Dr. Coral Pucci (’17)


 Exceptional UMSL Student Bowl Representative, Ramya Nararajan (’18)

Dr. Shane Kannarr addressing a large crowd of eye care practitioners at an industry sponsored luncheon.   


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