Best in Class 2016: ODs Helping Those in Need

This year’s Best in Class optometry students are as big-hearted as they are intelligent. Coming from different walks of life, they have lent their time to tutoring underclassmen, voluntarily organized Easter egg hunts, and even traveled to South America, all in hopes of helping those in need.

Some are moving on to do residencies, some are taking a breather before starting new jobs, and while others may not have post-graduation plans set in stone, the impact they have all left on their schools is a sure indicator of bright futures to come.

Vision Monday congratulates all of this year’s optometry graduates and dedicates this special section to shed the spotlight on the Best in Class 2016.

Vanessa Fimreite, OD

SUNY College of Optometry
New York, N.Y.

Optometry is a family affair for Vanessa Fimreite, OD, whose parents are optometrists at PAJE Optometric in Costa Mesa, Calif. Though she didn’t consider optometry as a field of interest for herself, it wasn’t until she saw how passionate her parents were about their work that she chose to go into optometry.

“I realized that unlike most of my friend’s parents who come home and complain about their jobs, my parents thoroughly enjoyed their work. Their passion was intoxicating and I personally know what it is like not having a correct pair of glasses and then have sudden clarity when you put on your updated prescription,” she said.

While at the College of Optometry, Fimreite was able to go to Oaxaca, Mexico with the student chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Optometrists to provide free comprehensive eye exams to several villages. She was also the recipient of this year’s inaugural Student Innovator Award, for her idea, MAVA: Mobile Acuity and Vision Assessment (see page 57).

Though she doesn’t have any solid post-graduation plans yet, she wants to move to San Francisco and join a private practice.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Vanessa had an impactful tenure as student council president, making lasting improvements to student life at the College. She solves problems in a proactive and creative way.”

Shane Johnston, OD

Midwestern University, Arizona School of Optometry
Glendale, Ariz.

Shane Johnston, OD, graduated with a degree in human biology and though he wanted to go into the health care field, he wasn’t sure which route he wanted to pursue. After receiving his degree, Johnston was hired by a private practice optometrist to work as an optical/lab tech. After six months of working there, he decided on optometry.

“My most gratifying work done while in my optometry program was helping underclassmen by tutoring and assisting in the methods pre-clinic. I tutored for three years and worked as a teaching assistant for one year,” he said.

After graduating, Johnston plans on staying in the Phoenix area to pursue private practice optometry.

HIS SCHOOL SAYS… “On behalf of Midwestern University and the Arizona College of Optometry, we thank Shane for his commitment and dedication to academic and clinical excellence. We wish him success in his optometric career.”

Emily Korszen, OD

Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Emily Korszen, OD, pursued optometry because she wanted to be a primary care provider for visual and ocular health. “I found by talking to many optometrists, that this field allows us to make lasting relationships with our patients, as we often see them regularly over the course of their lives,” she said.

“Working with an underserved population at one of my external rotations, Manatee County Rural Health Services, was incredibly gratifying,” Dr. Korsten stated. “We provided affordable eye-care for patients in the community, managed a wide variety of ocular conditions and injuries, and co-managed with primary care providers often. Patient education was a strong focus during our encounters, and the population as a whole was very receptive to the information and appreciative of the care we provided.”

After graduating, Korszen will be completing the cornea and contact lenses residency at Pacific University for the next year. Afterward, she hopes to be working in a private office to practice full-scope optometry with an emphasis on specialty contact lenses.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Emily tied for the highest score on National Board of Examiners in Optometry Part 1 in the country during her third year of optometry school. She is a sought after tutor in the areas of ocular disease, optics and basic sciences.”

Sarah Kuipers, OD

Indiana University School of Optometry
Bloomington, Ind.

Sarah Kuipers, OD, grew up roaming the halls of her grandparents’ small optical shop, so going into optometry was a no brainer. Though she was not completely passionate about the field, a summer working in an eye clinic in Guadalajara, Mexico during her junior year of undergrad changed that.

“While in school, I discovered my love for teaching. I spent three years as a tutor to other optometry students, organized numerous class review sessions for over 50 students, and taught the optics lab course during my third year,” Kuipers said. She then went on to secure a contract with the South Dakota State University College of Nursing and its satellite programs to teach the ocular health segments and initiate a strong InfantSEE advertising campaign within her community.

Kuipers set up her post-graduation life by starting her own business, with the intention of buying her family’s optical business and merging the two into a corporation. As of right now, she is preparing for a new baby boy, setting up a new electronic health records program and finalizing her business documents.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Sarah was in the top 25 percent of her class. She was a four-year member of the Private Practice Club, IU Optometric Student Association and secretary for our IU Pediatrics Club. She was named the national winner of the 2016 Varilux Student Award given by Essilor.“

Anthony Luongo, OD

Northeastern State University Oklahoma, College of Optometry
Tahlequah, Okla.

For Anthony Luongo, OD, optometry came naturally. “From the time I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated with how eyes work,” he said. He went on to study biology at the University of Nebraska and circled back to optometry once he realized his interest in the visual system continued to grow.

While at Northeastern, Luongo was a part of the Student Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (SVOSH). “My involvement in SVOSH was a big one,” Luongo stated. “Last summer, we took a group of 17 students and three doctors to Roatán, Honduras. We were able to see over 1,300 patients in just four days. And even though we were all exhausted by the end of it, the smiles and thanks we felt from the people of Honduras made it more than worthwhile.”

After graduation, Luongo plans to join the EyeDoctors-Optometrists, a group practice serving Northeast Kansas, while also continuing his volunteer work with Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH).

HIS SCHOOL SAYS… “Anthony was a part of the BSK International Optometric Honor Fraternity, BSK International Optometric Fraternity Silver Medalist for 4.0 GPA. He has held positions as the OSA Social chairman, class treasurer for all four years, and was the director of lens fabrication for SVOSH in 2014-2015. A recipient of the 2016 Essilor Labs of America Student Award, Anthony is graduating summa cum laude.”

Alexandra Sexton, OD

New England College of Optometry
Boston, Mass.

A visit to the eye doctor while she was in the second grade was all the motivation Alexandra Sexton, OD, needed in order to choose optometry as her career path. Shadowing clinicians and growing up with a mother who is a nurse, and a father who is a police officer further cemented Sexton’s desire to help people and enter the medical field.

“One of the most gratifying aspects of my optometry experience at NECO was discovering my own personality as a clinician and figuring out my favorite specialty areas. At NECO, we are very fortunate to receive a diverse clinical education—we learn in hospitals, community health centers, VA (veteran administrations) hospitals and private practices.”

Before starting work in July, Sexton will take some time to visit Iceland, the Cape, the Jersey Shore and Florida.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “We are pleased to tell you that Alexandra Sexton is the outstanding student from the class of 2016. Dr. Sexton has shown leadership through her elected positions at the College, culminating in the role of Student Council president. She is the recipient of two awards, the F. Dow Smith Award as well as the Dr. Edward Joseph Troendle Award.”

Delaram Shirazian, OD

University of Missouri St-Louis College of Optometry
St. Louis, Mo.

Delaram Shirazian started college with the intention of becoming a physician but that changed after she started shadowing an optometrist during her junior year. “Although it was not my first time inside an optometry office, it was the first time that I had actually looked at the optometry field as a professional interest,” Shirazian said.

While in college, she was president of the local National Optometric Student Association (NOSA), an organization that allowed her to make an impact on the surrounding community. “I oversaw one of the organization’s Easter egg hunts for children with visual impairments, whose families traveled from across the state to be in attendance,” Shirazian explained. “With beeping eggs, our organization gave those families a unique opportunity to experience an annual tradition with a sense of normality.” She was also a recipient of the Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. Award of Excellence in Contact Lens Patient Care.

Post-graduation, she will be doing a residency in ocular disease/low vision at the Kansas City VA Medical Center, with plans to work in a community health center post-residency.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Delaram “Deli” Shirazian has served as one of our finest and most dedicated ambassadors. As president of NOSA, Deli was always planning an event such as a community vision screening, an Easter egg hunt for handicapped children, a school-wide talent show and many others.”

Whitney Territo, OD

The Ohio State University College of Optometry
Columbus, Ohio

Rapid evolution in optometry is what solidified Whitney Territo’s passion for the field. As an undergrad, she was aware of Ohio State’s powerful legislative body and knew that the scope of optometry would continue to widen and adapt to the ever-changing health care system.

While at the College of Optometry, Territo found the most gratification while doing her low vision rehabilitation rotation during her clinical training. “I quickly found myself empathizing with my patients and made it an obligation to be a positive figure in their life. There was nothing more satisfying than to be able to give someone back their independence through the use of a simple low vision device,” she said.

After graduating, Territo will begin her career in private practice in southeast Ohio, believing and acknowledging that comprehensive eye exams can be “sensitive and specific in discovering and diagnosing the leading causes of blindness in our country.”

HER SCHOOL SAYS…“Whitney Territo was awarded our 2016 Graduate of the Year at commencement. The award is given to the most outstanding member of each graduating class based on clinical excellence, academic achievement, leadership and professional promise. She is dedicated to elevating patient care to the highest level.”

Opticians’ Best in Class 2016: Leading By Example

It’s “never too late to realize one’s passion” seems to be the great unifier of this year’s Best in Class opticianry honorees. Some students grew up with parents in the eyecare industry, while others dabbled in entirely different career paths—but all set their sights on various opticianry programs from across the nation and excelled.

These newly certified opticians and optical technicians led by example, holding positions in various clubs, volunteering and still remaining top of the class. For all their hard work, they have been selected by their respective alma maters because of their tenacity and determination to not only better themselves, but the schools they leave behind.

Vision Monday congratulates all of this year’s opticianry graduates and dedicates this special section to shed the spotlight on the Best in Class 2016.

Michael Harcarik

Raritan Valley Community College
Somerville, N.J.

One trip to Pearle Vision landed Michael Harcarik in opticianry. He went to pick up his contact lenses, saw they were hiring, got a position as a sales associate and once he started working, he realized his interest in the science of optics. “I decided to enroll in the Ophthalmic Science Program at Raritan Valley Community College and my manager offered to reimburse me for my tuition,” Harcarik said.

While in school, Harcarik got the opportunity to be hands-on and cut his first pair of prescription eyeglasses. “It was the first time I was able to complete the process of fabricating a pair of prescription eyewear, from marking up the lenses, to edging, inserting and bench aligning a frame,” he explained.

Post-graduation, Harcarik will study for his state board exam and after practicing as an optician for a few years, he plans on going back to school for a degree in business. Harcarik eventually wants to own his own practice.

HIS SCHOOL SAYS… “Mike is one of our youngest graduates and certainly among our most intelligent. He always impressed us with an absolute full understanding of the subject matter. You couldn’t ask for a student with a deeper understanding of the complexities of opticianry than Mike. During his years here as a student, he never once disappointed and frequently amazed the faculty with his command of the material.”

Connie Field

Hillsborough Community College
Tampa, Fla.

For Connie Field, the choice to go into opticianry was personal. After her right eye was enucleated, she suffered the loss of her left eye a year and a half later. That only fueled her determination to do something with her life. “I thought to myself, ‘if all goes well, I’m going to make a difference,’” Field said and she took the first step by enrolling into the opticianry program at Hillsborough Community College.

While in school, Field was able to go on a mission trip to Jamaica organized by her school in conjunction with Icare. “Icare is a not-for-profit program that harnesses the compassion and expertise of eyecare professionals to give the gift of sight to thousands that can’t afford it,” Field said. “Volunteers make new friends, learn about new cultures, learn about themselves and get the opportunity to use their skills for absolute fulfillment.”

After graduating, she hopes to work in an optical shop that is part of a medical practice. Eventually, she hopes to teach as a way of paying it forward to the professors who helped her while she was at Hillsborough.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Connie has demonstrated great clinical skills along with outstanding academic performance. She has been very active with the State Opticianry Organization. Connie is always very interested in the latest technology.”

Bryan Lemons

Roane State Community College
Harriman, Tenn.

Bryan Lemons found out about the opticianry program at his school through word of mouth. “While sitting in speech class, one of my friends did her speech on the opticianry program,” he said. “After the speech, we talked about the duties that an optician has and once we finished talking, I was ready to apply for the program.”

While in college, Lemons got the opportunity to work in the field during his practicum last summer. “One of the most gratifying experiences was when a little old lady came into our dispensary for an exam. After she saw the doctor, I got to help her pick out the glasses. She put them on and had the biggest smile on her face. It warmed my heart to see how something so little was such a big change for somebody.”

After graduation, Lemons plans on going to board meetings for the Tennessee Dispensing Opticians Association, with hopes of becoming a board member someday. He also plans on either running a business or opening up his own optical.

HIS SCHOOL SAYS… “Bryan won the scholarship to attend the Opticians Associations of America’s (OAA) Leadership Conference this year and was president of our Student Optical Society. I think he is on his way to becoming a future leader in our industry.”

Sabrina Parkin

Erie Community College
Williamsville, N.Y.

Though her father is an optometrist, Sabrina Parkin got her love for opticianry through experience. By interacting with patients, Parkin learned millions of people across the globe live with visual impairment that is correctable, and as a certified optician, she plans on aiding those in need.

“In December of 2015, I had the opportunity to travel to Jamaica, where I assisted in thorough vision screenings at the Llandilo School of Special Education in Savanna La Mar. Of the more than 100 students screened, 30 percent received corrective eyewear at no cost. The experience was nothing short of life changing and is something I plan to do annually throughout my career,” she said.

After graduating, Parkin plans on getting her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology, before moving on to SUNY College of Optometry.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Sabrina’s tenacity and positive outlook are wonderful qualities.”

Andrew Paul

New York City College of Technology
New York, N.Y.

Andrew Paul tried his hand at sales before he chose opticianry as a career path. “I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University and while I learned a lot about the psychology and art of making sales, I missed the satisfaction that I got from helping others to see,” he stated. Because he worked as a LensCrafter lab technician while at Northeastern, he sought to return to opticianry, and decided to attend City Tech to gain the proficiency to be competent in the field.

Paul became the president of the optical society at City Tech and helped organize a field trip to TriSupreme labs in Long Island. “It was an excellent opportunity for us to put a visual behind everything we learned. Not only did we get a firsthand look at a well-run optical lab, but we became a more united group of colleagues and friends,” he said. Paul also coordinated visual screenings and arranged for tutoring for underclassman while at City Tech.

Along with being an adjunct professor at City Tech, Paul wants to gain a position managing an optical shop in hopes of creating his own business after graduating.

HIS SCHOOL SAYS… “We have always been impressed with Andrew’s desire to learn and his commitment to his education and future career. Whatever Andrew undertakes, he does so with enthusiasm and high motivation.”

Brian Taylor

Reynolds Community College
Richmond, Va.

Brian Taylor threw his family and friends for a loop when he chose opticianry as a field of study. After spending some time pursuing the agreed upon nursing program, and realizing it wasn’t for him, he changed course and went into the opticianry program.

“Every time I left class, I would check the allied health program packet rack for a new program. After weeks of nothing new, the opticianry packet appeared,” he said. His interest was piqued. Taylor then did some research, looked for program director Kristy Green and joined the program.

“My biggest motivation is that I love making things and working with tools. Everyone I’ve met in this field loves what they do and I feel like I’m part of the ‘family.’ The most gratifying work has been volunteering for Remote Area Medical events. Nothing compares to the feeling my classmates and I get when we make eyewear for people who can’t afford it.”

Post-graduation, Taylor plans on taking a breather and is eager for opportunities ahead.

HIS SCHOOL SAYS… “From the start of the program, Brian has been cheering his classmates on, pushing them to connect and keep those connections, to work as a team in approaching their learning, planning study sessions and encouraging classmates to step up when volunteer opportunities would arise. Brian is a quiet leader, one who doesn’t look for the spotlight, but pushes others into it.”