Historically, the College of Optometry has had a large number of sons and daughters of alumni, several twins, and sisters enrolled in the program at the same time. This year, for the first time, the college will have a mother and daughter enrolled in the program. Welcome Olivia Gada (’21) on the left, the daughter of Alexandra (Alex) Gada (’19) on the right.
The journey of Alex Gada to optometry is a long and fascinating one, which began in another country and then traveled through the professions of dentistry and orthopedics. “My career journey started in St. Petersburg, Russia, where I attended dental school. Before my final year there I met and fell in love with my husband while visiting family in Chicago during summer break. After getting married, we made our new home in one of Chicago’s suburbs. With my husband’s support and encouragement, I completed a dental hygiene program at the local community college and had a fulfilling part-time career for 17 years while also being a full-time mother to three wonderful children. I originally learned about and became fascinated with optometry while bringing my children for their annual eye exams. It was not until my husband’s job opportunity brought our family to St. Louis in 2009 that I was able to start working toward my goal of becoming an optometrist. In my effort to minimize financial burden on our family, I first accepted a position as a medical assistant at the orthopedic department of Washington University. This job allowed me to help support my family, while also jumpstarting my goal of returning to school by providing tuition reimbursement. With that help I was able to take the first steps towards applying to optometry school.”
For Olivia, her path toward optometry began at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. And it’s no surprise who inspired her to pursue this profession. “I am one of three children and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. St. Louis became my home shortly before I started high school. Following my passion for science, I majored in Biochemistry at Wellesley College; a small, all female, liberal arts school in Massachusetts. Wellesley offered a challenging and diverse environment that allowed me to pursue research, leadership opportunities, and get to know people from all over the world. My mother has always been a great inspiration to me, and she is one of the reasons I have chosen to pursue optometry. Growing up, listening to her stories of working in various health professions and later of her dream of becoming an optometrist helped spark my desire to pursue a health-care career of my own. Over the years I explored different health-care fields such as pharmacy and dentistry through summer programs, volunteering in hospitals, shadowing MDs, and undergraduate research. While I enjoyed all these experiences, none truly captured my heart until optometry. Hearing my mother’s detailed accounts of the positive challenges and diverse opportunities offered by optometry during her first year at UMSL inspired me learn more about the profession and eventually follow in her footsteps.”
And Alex is excited that her daughter chose optometry. “I am thrilled that Olivia chose optometry as her future profession. While being extremely biased, I believe that her caring attitude, gentle demeanor, sharp and inquisitive intellect make her uniquely suited to succeed in optometry school.” Olivia, likewise, feels the impact of her mother as a trailblazer and role model has greatly influenced her: “My mother has always been a pioneering woman with a desire to thoroughly understand the world around her. She has done a lot with her life, from immigrating to the US, pursuing several careers, building a house from scratch, to (my favorite) raising my siblings and me. I have always admired her perseverance and dedication, and she continues to be a source of inspiration for me.”
They both like the choice they made in coming to UMSL. Alex says, “I am enjoying being a student at UMSL. Attending the school at the same time as my two children helped me to understand their college experience and gave me an opportunity to connect with them in a very special way. I love our class and am delighted to be part of such a bright, caring, and cohesive group.” And Olivia feels she is off to a good start with the Class of 2021: “I have only been part of UMSL’s optometry program for a month, but I can confidently say that it meets my expectations (in a good way). My classmates are all very friendly, and it’s nice to have a community of individuals who are similarly passionate about the profession.”
Alex and Olivia not only attend UMSL together, but they also work as optometric technicians at the same practice: Bogey Hills Vision Center. Olivia, who began employment in January 2017, has found this to be especially beneficial as she initiates her optometric journey: “Graduating a semester early has given me the unique opportunity to be able to work full time at an optometric practice before starting optometry school. I found the experience to be very eye opening and one that made me fall in love with optometry as a profession more and more with each passing day.” Alex agrees and, like any parent, loves the opportunity to work with her daughter: “Working in the optometric practice allowed me to expand my knowledge of optometry as a profession. Working in the same practice with Olivia is a unique opportunity, and I treasure every moment of it.”
What does the future hold for this special mother-daughter team? They both want to pursue an optometric residency after graduation followed very likely by private practice, and for Alex possibly an academic setting. She summarizes it very well: “Regardless of the path, my passion lies in sharing my knowledge with patients and helping them to become better educated consumers of optometric services.”