Natissia Small (left), director of precollegiate programs at UMSL, and Dr. Angel Novel, assistant clinical professor of optometry at UMSL, are leading the new Eyes on Diversity program to recruit and retain underrepresented optometry students.

With the new Eyes on Diversity program, the College of Optometry at the University of Missouri–St. Louis has set out to recruit and retain underrepresented students. The college has collaborated with the Bridge program at UMSL to introduce St. Louis-area high students to the profession of optometry through a five-week technical course to begin in May.

The program is funded through an Optometry Education Diversity Mini-Grant awarded by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. The grant’s purpose is to help optometry schools develop and implement activities or programs designed to recruit and retain underrepresented minority students.

“The ASCO diversity grant has been a wonderful opportunity for optometry schools across the country,” said Dr. Angel Novel, assistant clinical professor of optometry at UMSL and the Eyes on Diversity program coordinator. “It gives the schools a chance to expand some of its programs or create new programs geared toward promoting diversity within the profession.”

Of the 1,304 students to earn a doctorate in optometry in 2007-08, 63 percent were white, 23.4 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, 3.5 percent were black and 3.1 percent were Hispanic, according to the most recent numbers provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. Novel said she hopes the Eyes on Diversity program can help bolster the number of graduates within those smaller representations of students.

“Increasing diversity is essential to the profession of optometry, as it will allow optometrists to evolve with the changing dynamics of the patients we provide care,” she said.

Participating students will learn various clinical applications such as taking a patient’s thorough case history and assessing visual acuity. They will also receive diversity presentations, ocular anatomy presentations and opportunities to shadow local optometrists. UMSL optometry faculty members will teach five consecutive Saturday sessions, and optometry students will assist with the technical skills portion of the program.

The Eyes on Diversity program will target high school juniors and seniors who have completed the Bridge Saturday Academy or Bridge Summer Academy. The Bridge programs are part of the Office of Precollegiate Programs at UMSL that provides a variety of structured programming to prepare, engage and support students and parents for college success. Hundreds of students enroll in the programs each year, and 100 percent of all participating seniors have been accepted to college since 2003.

“We are looking forward to providing this opportunity to Bridge program participants,” said Natissia Small, director of precollegiate programs at UMSL. “This is a stepping stone that will lead to a career field that may not have been considered without exposure. Partnerships such as this will continue to build future leaders that will not only have gained hands-on experience, but also become equipped with a ‘true knowledge’ of the career they are considering.”

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Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz