The combination of a very engaged, leadership-oriented student body in combination with being located near the national headquarters of the American Optometric Association (AOA) has been mutually beneficial for the College of Optometry and the AOA. Whether it is having one of our student-leaders (actress-turned-future optometrist Rachel Simpson ’19) perform voiceovers for promotion and instruction videos, to working closely with the founding editor of OptometryStudents.com (Peter Jacques ’19), or having student representation at events such as the AOA Eclipse event, the AOA has relied on the College of Optometry to work closely with them. Likewise, with no less than 71 students at the 2017 Optometry’s Meeting in Washington, D.C. – which was instrumental in the UMSL chapter of the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA) being awarded the prestigious Spirit Award – it is evident that our students, upon graduation, will lobby on behalf of the profession as proud members of the AOA.
UMSL’s leadership in the AOSA (for which Dr. Raymond Myers, former faculty member and founder of AOSA has championed) has been very evident in the past decade. UMSL has had a national officer in most of those years, including two presidents. Kate Hamm (’19), a finalist for president this year, is proud to be associated with AOA: “I love having the opportunity to work with AOA on a regular basis! They have given me so much support and encouragement to become not only a great doctor but also a great leader in optometry. As a trustee for AOSA, we get to have experience leading our peers, and developing strategies to advocate for the profession with strong leaders to guide us.” Maria Nguyen (’20) agrees: “Going into optometry school, I would never have guessed in a million years that I would be a part of something as influential as the AOA. Being surrounded by fellow colleagues and future colleagues who not only share the same passion for optometry but also inspire me to do more for my profession is one of my favorite things about the AOA. Rallying on Capitol Hill with optometry students and optometrists at last year’s Optometry’s Meeting showed me how unique our profession is that we can work as clinicians and legislators! As the Trustee-Elect, I’ve worked alongside my Trustee, Kate Hamm, and spread our enthusiasm for optometry and legislation to our fellow classmates! Recently, Kate and I worked with our AOA-PAC Local Liaison, Caroline Mendus (’20), to start the AOA-PAC Drive, and it was so much fun educating students on AOA-PAC and seeing all the students that donated!“
Of course, there is also the prestige and influence that UMSL has via the efforts of Peter Jacques (’19) and OptometryStudents.com as he notes: “Working directly with the AOA as the editor-in-chief of the AOA-owned OptometryStudents.com has been an amazing and unique experience as a student at UMSL. Having the newly-renovated AOA Headquarters right in our own backyard is a constant reminder that optometry is a legislated profession, and that we must fight to protect and expand our scope of practice. The opportunities I’ve had to visit the headquarters has allowed me to witness firsthand all of the volunteers and employees hard at work for the doctors of optometry in America.”
The efforts by UMSL students have not gone unnoticed by Stacey Struckhoff, AOA Associate Director, Student and New Doctor Services. She provides a welcome and tour of the AOA facilities every year to entering first-year students. Ms. Struckhoff understands both how valuable UMSL student contributions to the profession are as well as to students nationally: “Student members of the AOA, AOSA, and state affiliates bring a whole new level of excitement and passion to the profession. Students play a critical role in strengthening the profession, which is why it is so important to have them being active in the AOSA and AOA.”