Jennifer Sidun, a fourth-year optometry student at UMSL

Jennifer Sidun, a fourth-year optometry student at UMSL, is serving a one-year term as president of the national American Optometric Student Association. She’s the first UMSL student to lead the 6,000-member organization. (Photo by August Jennewein)

It’s September, less than a month into the new academic year, and Jennifer Sidun has no trouble keeping busy. The University of Missouri–St. Louis optometry student is in Cleveland where she spends her weekdays working on her first of two advanced clinical rotations there. She’ll complete six rotations over her final nine months as a student.

Her weekend? Sidun will fly to Charlotte, N.C., to test her clinical skills on patients. It’s one of three board exams optometry students must complete before they can practice.

This is the life of a fourth-year optometry student. There are the external rotations, studying and board exams. It’s the last sprint to the finish line that will end a four-year marathon for a coveted doctor of optometry degree.

“Fourth-year is crazy,” Sidun says.

But she’s not just a typical fourth-year optometry student. She’s also president of the American Optometric Student Association.

Dr. Edward Bennett, associate professor of optometry at UMSL, calls the AOSA president the most important leadership position for U.S. optometry students. Sidun is the third straight student from UMSL to hold an officer position for AOSA, but she’s the first to be president of the national organization, which has 22 chapters and 6,000 members.

As president, Sidun can have a direct impact on efforts to unify her profession. That’s important to her.

“It ultimately makes the experience for our patients better,” she says. “Sometimes people get caught up in politics or other things and forget patient care should come first.”

Sidun’s responsibilities during her one-year term include overseeing the organization’s Board of Trustees, serving as national liaison to the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and representing the entire AOSA membership during conferences.

Her role as president took her this year to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto and Arkansas. And she’ll sneak in at least two more trips back to St. Louis and trips to Charlotte and Phoenix before the year ends.

Bennett says Sidun has brought national attention to the College of Optometry at UMSL.

“Jen is very dedicated, easily approachable and interested in the opinions of others,” Bennett says. “She’s outstanding at multitasking and accomplished it all with a smile. When you think about it, those are the qualities of a good leader. She epitomizes what embodies effective leadership.”

Sidun spent her undergraduate years at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. She discovered her interest in optometry after taking science courses, like a biology class in which she dissected an eyeball. She soon began working for a Lexington-area optometrist and found her calling.

“I enjoy working with people and being able to help them see better,” Sidun says.

She chose UMSL to pursue her optometry degree because she liked the small class sizes and the college’s homey feeling. In a program known for its student participation, she became one of the most active students.

For example, she played a key role in creating, with her classmates, a music video explaining the rules for the Optometry Student Bowl at the annual Optometry’s Meeting in Chicago. Their video was an elaborate reinterpretation of a signature song from the musical “Chicago.”

“These kinds of events really bring our class closer together and give us a break from studying or clinic,” she says.

When Sidun graduates, she will seek employment in her native Cleveland where her fiancé works. She has already touched based with the Ohio Optometric Association, because she wants to continue her service to the profession. She says she’ll miss UMSL. She’s made lifelong friends, and looks forward to return visits to St. Louis.

And how will Sidun’s life change at the conclusion of her AOSA presidency?

“I’m sure it will be a huge change going from being so busy (as president) to basically nothing overnight,” she says. “Luckily, I am in the process of planning my wedding as well, so that will still keep me busy.”

Staying so busy might not be for everyone, but it suits Sidun just fine.

This story was originally published in the fall 2012 issue of UMSL Magazine.

Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz