Optometrist, military man, humanitarian wins Chancellor’s Award for civic engagement

Dr. W. Howard McAlister, associate professor of optometry at UMSL, will receive the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement on Sept. 16 during the State of the University Address. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Dr. W. Howard McAlister, associate professor of optometry at UMSL, will receive the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement on Sept. 16 during the State of the University Address. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Name a professional optometric organization and Dr. W. Howard McAlister, associate professor of optometry at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, has probably been a member, if not a chair.

He has been an item writer and clinical examiner for the National Board of Examiners in Optometry, a member of the World Council of Optometry Public Health Committee, a founding member of the European Academy of Optometry and Optics as well as a member of the Association of Practice Management Educators. And for more than 25 years he has volunteered for the American Optometric Association and the Missouri Optometric Association.

On top of that, McAlister has continued to be involved in the military for more than 30 years, all while inspiring young minds at UMSL and training future optometrists.

He finds the energy because he believes in “selfless action that provides for the common good” – his personal definition of “service.”

In recognition of his extra efforts to help students, the broader optometry profession and the military, McAlister is the recipient of the 2015 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement. He will be presented with a plaque and a $1,000 honorarium during the annual State of the University Address on Sept. 16 in the J.C. Penney Building at UMSL.

“I’ve been awed by Howard’s ability to simplify the seemingly obscure principles of clinical science and public health, enabling students initial understanding,” said UMSL optometry alumnus Lawrence Harrington in a nomination letter. “He then patiently matures their knowledge to achieve master of the full optometric skill set.”

Beyond McAlister’s service to students, he is sure to practice in the clinic what he preaches in the classroom.

“Howard sets an impeccable professional example,” Harrington said. “Providing effective and efficient medical services while fostering empathy for the patient’s desires and needs, he embodies the perfect balance of technical proficiency and personal attention.”

As UMSL’s liaison to the MOA and the AOA, McAlister has also served to better the College and Optometry’s relations in the professional arena.

“Through working methodically to build relationships with leaders around the state, Dr. McAlister was able to open a dialogue that helped to garner support for the program from the profession,” said Professor Emeritus of Optometry Dr. Timothy Wingert in his nomination letter. “This would not have been possible if he were not a respected voice within the profession itself.”

McAlister changes people’s lives by using his optometry skills and expertise to help others.

“The military has an abundance of impressionable young medical officers,” Harrington said. “Fortunately, Dr. McAlister brought his passion for mentoring and patient care from the university to his service in the U.S. military reserves, where his exceptional and sustained leadership was recognized by promotion to the rank of Colonel, an infrequent achievement for an optometrist.”

Some of that leadership and service took the form of humanitarian aid as well. He has made several different military sponsored trips to places like Nepal and Guatemala, where there is a great need for basic eye, dental and medical care. The people he helped had dirt floors, no running water and little access to electricity.

“It was distressing that we could do so little,” McAlister said in an interview. “According to the World Health Organization the leading cause of vision impairment and the second leading cause of blindness is uncorrected refractive error, mostly correctable with spectacles. Through my skills I was able to make it possible for many people to return to the work force or allow children to perform in school.”

His research interest focuses on the role of optometry in the interdisciplinary health care delivery system. He has a bachelor’s degree and an OD from The Ohio State University in Columbus. McAlister also earned two master’s degrees in in health services management and international relations from Webster University in St. Louis and a master’s of public health from the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago.

The UMSL Experience


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