The College of Optometry at UMSL has many distinct features, including small class size, a wide array of externships, successful board pass rates, and high retention, but one of the most defining characteristics is the family feel atmosphere.  Each year the college begins the cycle of recruiting and admitting a new group of individuals from all over the country, and even the world.  This year the College of Optometry is welcoming 49 new students to the Class of 2021.  These students come together as strangers and will leave as close friends and even extended members of one another’s families by the time they graduate.

The journey toward becoming this family begins in April at the Class Mixer, where the students meet for the first time and get to know one another.  Spouses, significant others, and even parents are invited to the event; it provides the opportunity to know not only the other students but also those who make up their support system.   The class of 2021, along with their families, met on April 21, 2017 at 2865 Brewhouse in St. Charles for a dinner and drink reception, which allows the incoming class and their guests to meet in a social environment. Porter Swartz was happy with the Friday night mixer. “I really enjoyed the pre-mixer and found it helpful in getting to know my classmates,” he said.

On Saturday, April 22, 2017, the new students and their guests met for a day-long event to learn more about UMSL including financial aid, student support services, campus safety, campus recreation, and to initiate the journey of looking for housing.  “This weekend is just the beginning for the incoming class to come together and get to know one another better,” commented Director of Student and Alumni Services, Nick Palisch.  Many students agree that the mixer is a great addition to getting to know their classmates for the next four years.  Meagan Dabbs agrees, “I personally thought the mixer was a good way to get acquainted with people before school in August, especially because we all live so far away.”

After months of reading each other’s biographies on MyGateway and posting on the Class Facebook page, the incoming class was able to meet for the first time. Meeting other students before classes start in the fall allows them to be more comfortable with each other in August. “The mixer allows for the students and significant others to meet in a social setting to get to know each other better.  The mixer is equally important for the significant others as they will be adjusting to the life of an optometry student too,” commented Palisch.

The class mixer concept is unique to the College of Optometry and is one of many features that makes us different. Nicholas Holtzman, a Class of 2021 member agrees, “Not only that, but a chance to meet and make a friend/ roommate. I don’t know of any other optometry school that does this.  Dabbs agrees with Holtzman and points out that what we do to engage our class is something that is not found in other schools. “I think it’s a valuable part of getting to know the class. My fiancés class at Logan has no one to organize a “mixer” for them, so they are just scrambling to come up with a meet up themselves,” she said.

Some of the students traveled a long distance to meet for the first time but felt the trip was well worth it. “The entire mixer really made me feel as if I were becoming a part of the UMSL Optometry family and not just another student at a university,” commented Holtzman.

Throughout the summer, the class of 2021 will have several more opportunities to get together as a group before they start classes in August.

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