Walman Scholarship helps new father Aric Waltz balance life

Aric Waltz

A torn meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament catapulted Aric Waltz out of a physical therapy career and into optometry. (Photo by August Jennewein)

A single moment ended Aric Waltz’s physical therapy vocation and – almost – his football career.

While playing as a sophomore at Northwestern College in Iowa in 2013, the now-University of Missouri–St. Louis student made a cut, fell down and couldn’t get up.

Turned out Waltz had torn the meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

“It was a non-contact injury,” he recalled. “It didn’t really hurt. I just kind of tore it. It was weird. I’d never really been hurt before then.”

A biology/health professions major, Waltz was staring down six months of what he’d hoped would be his future occupation.

“When I had to go through that physical therapy process myself, I realized that’s not what I wanted to do,” he said. “I had to basically teach myself how to walk again. I was frustrated all the time, and that’s something I really didn’t feel like I wanted to do every day.”

Instead, Waltz shadowed an optometrist over spring break and found himself drawn to the face-to-face exams that create doctor-patient rapport, work-life balance and a four-year path of study.

He’s now firmly down that road as a third-year student in the UMSL College of Optometry. Then, for the 2018-19 school year, the Walman Scholarship granted Waltz $5,000 to help complete his studies. As a new father, Waltz appreciates how the scholarship, his work study and supportive faculty and staff have made balancing his demands possible.

Waltz applied for the scholarship, waiting, hoping and praying that somehow he’d get it. When he received an email from Walman Optical, he was blown away to discover that not only had he received the award but had gotten Walman’s maximum.

“I sent a letter thanking them,” Waltz said. “My wife was pregnant at the time, so I explained that situation saying how much it meant to me that there are people out there who care about education and are supportive of professional students.

“I said that I would be using that money to further my education and to become the best clinician optometrist that I can be, that I would try to make them proud and be the best person for the community that I practice in, give the best care that I can and do the best with the opportunity that they presented me with.”

He applied for the scholarship thanks to encouragement from Nick Palisch, the College of Optometry director of student and alumni services, who has helped Waltz succeed in numerous ways during his three years at UMSL.

Thanks to Palisch’s direction, Waltz has attended professional events such as Heart of America Eye Care Congress in Kansas City, Missouri, and Optometry’s Meeting in Denver, and Palisch is Waltz’s go-to financial aid expert.

“Over the past three years, I have watched Aric transform into a someone who I believe will be an excellent optometrist when he graduates,” Palisch said. “He is dedicated to his studies and clinical performance and has strong time management skills all while maintaining his life as a new father to his son, Mason. Aric is a person who always looks at the bright side of things and who maintains a positive, upbeat and energetic personality. He is always happy, no matter what, and he inspires those around him to be greater.”

Since Waltz is a work-study student and UMSL optometry ambassador, the two have spent many hours working together and have become good friends. That generous spirit and close-knit community is what drew Waltz to UMSL in the first place. The small class sizes reminded him of his undergraduate experience, and then there was the beautiful new Patient Care Center.

The experience has lived up to his expectations with the supportive faculty members, who are available at any hour of the day, as one standout element. His classmates are another.

“We never feel like we’re on our own,” Waltz said. “Everybody here in the class shares a Google Drive, so any information one student has they will share with the rest of the class. We’re all in this together, so that definitely helps with studying. You can’t feel like you’re stressed competing with anybody else. We’re all in the same boat together, helping each other out.”

There are a couple highlights of his time at UMSL that strike Waltz as especially meaningful. One was the white coat ceremony, which marks the divide between being a student in the classroom and a student doctor seeing patients in clinic. Another was taking Part I of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry licensing exam, which Waltz did in early April.

His immediate goals are to make it through school, pass parts II and III of his boards and get a job. He thinks he’ll start out working in commercial practice, but his ultimate aim would be to move into private practice, where he’d like to be a generalist and be involved with optometric service.

“I don’t really want to specialize in a certain thing,” Waltz said. “I want to do primary care. I want to have my hands in a little bit of everything: pediatrics, geriatrics, disease, contact lenses. It’s kind of like you have a little bit of everything that you want to see.”

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