Meet Keshia Elder, dean of UMSL’s College of Optometry

by | Dec 5, 2022

Elder, who previously served as an associate clinical professor at UMSL from 2011 to 2016, recently became the first Black female dean of optometry in the country.
Keshia Elder

With her appointment as dean of the UMSL College of Optometry, Keshia Elder recently became the first Black female dean of optometry in the country. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Elder, who previously served as an associate clinical professor in the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Optometry from 2011 to 2016, recently became the first Black female dean of optometry in the country.

How has your background prepared you for this role?

Starting out as an officer and optometrist in the Medical Service Corps with the U.S. Navy was a great way to start my career – it really set the tone for how I interact with people today. Working in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of South Carolina solidified my appreciation for the field of optometry and showed me how well ODs and MDs could work together so that we can provide the best health care for patients. Working at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry gave me the experience in research that I needed to understand how to form collaborative relationships to do translational research. I also served as part of UMSL’s faculty from 2011 to 2016, and I really have a heart for the faculty, staff and students here. I think everything I’ve done has worked together to prepare me for this moment.

Why did you want to return to UMSL?

UMSL is a great educational institution. The College of Optometry trains top-notch optometrists. The students are really good students; they are nice people, and they are invested in the field of optometry. The staff is outstanding. They are experts at what they do, they are dedicated to the College of Optometry and they are devoted to advancing the optometric profession. Then, you look at UMSL and all the things that the university itself does to help improve the community around it. I just can’t understand why anyone would not want to go back to UMSL. This is a really great place.

What is your vision for the College of Optometry?

I would like for the UMSL College of Optometry to serve as the leader for optometric education, have a diverse portfolio of scholarly activity and cultivate a culture of service. I would like to continue to build on the foundation established by Dean Larry Davis. But what I really want is to have a school that mirrors the population that we serve. That’s critical because everybody wants to go into an environment where they feel like they belong. Students are more likely to come to the school and to be comfortable and to be successful if they see themselves there. The same goes for faculty and for staff – we all want to be in a place where we feel like we belong and we fit in. If you have faculty, staff and students that mirror the environment around you, that’s also going to continue to attract all types of patients. We all know that with diversity, there’s strength. We learn more in a more diverse environment. We are more productive in a more diverse environment. We know patients are more satisfied when they’re in a diverse environment. That type of environment is going to be helpful for everyone.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m the most proud when I see students, residents or even colleagues who have gone out into the world and are doing great things in the optometric profession, and I know that I was able to help them along their journey. My successes are helping other people win.

This story was originally published in the fall 2022 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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Heather Riske

Heather Riske

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