His story is very compelling and uplifting.  He grew up poor in rural California.  He had to repeat third grade as the result of an undiagnosed vision problem which also resulted in his reading at only a 6thgrade level when he entered high school. He then proceeded to drop out of high school to support himself and worked every conceivable job, including cleaning planes and construction. In 2007, he joined the Army.  He served his country all over the world for no less than five years.  He experienced practically every possible adverse condition while playing an important role in United States Intelligence.  Meet Jeff Stewart, member of the UMSL Class of 2022.  His responsibilities in the U.S. Army were very important and time-consuming, as he relates: “I had basic training in Oklahoma where I learned training doesn’t stop for sub-zero temperatures or ice storms. My intelligence training took place in Arizona, and the class attrition rate was over 50%. I loved my time in Korea working as a clerk in the battalion S2. In retrospect, it showed me the impact a great leader can have in a workplace. After Korea, I was stationed in Washington state, where the unit had one sole purpose, planning and preparing to deploy to Iraq. The first three months of my deployment were spent on a joint security station (JSS) Soto. A JSS is a base where both Iraqi and U.S. forces reside together.  It was cramped living conditions with steep water restrictions for showering and laundry. Our mission here was devoted to trying to improve relations between Iraqi intelligence officers and our intelligence operatives. We also trained Iraqi forces in everything from map reading to proper questioning techniques. The rest of my one-year tour was spent on COB Basra, Iraq.  Around once to twice a week we conducted dismounted (walking) patrols through populated areas screening for new intelligence leads. We had daily meetings with other intelligence organizations to share information and communicate with established leads. We wrote intelligence information reports to be used to create intelligence reports. In other words, we generated data so that others could use it to analyze trends on the topics.  It was 12 to 16 hours days, 7 days a week, for about 7 to 8 months until our relief arrived in country.”

Someone who has obviously exhibited a tremendous work ethic, complete with leadership experience that few students of optometry nationwide could match, would represent an extremely welcome addition to the profession of optometry.  How did Jeff’s journey lead him to make this decision? “I became interested in optometry after completing my second year in undergrad. My first goal was to be a physical therapist. However, after shadowing a physical therapist I lost all interest in the profession. I shadowed an optometrist, and it felt like all my previous experiences came into place.  I loved the one-on-one patient setting where I would have the chance to educate and make positive impacts into their lives. I (also) conducted retinal neurogenesis research.  The research was largely in response to a paper published by Nature Communications on circHIPK3. They found it was present in most tissues and had growth stimulating effects, but they did not look at the developing retina.  I showed that circHIPK3 was present at all stages of development in the chick embryo we were allowed to investigate.”

Fortunately for the College of Optometry, Jeff Stewart chose UMSL.  It allowed him to be closer to family, and it had many positive qualities that he believed were consistent with his beliefs. “I love how the College of Optometry has such a commitment to ensuring that everyone has the tools and resources needed to succeed.  This attitude is also represented among classmates and student mentors.  I haven’t experienced such a strong sense of community since being in the Army.  I enjoy all of my courses and how the professors all make an effort to tie the material back into the optometry field.”

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