The UMSL College of Optometry, in recent years, has experienced numerous very positive developments.  Certainly, the opening of the Patient Care Center (PCC) in September 2016 was a seminal moment in the history of the College.  That said, the hiring of seven new faculty in the past three years has had a remarkable effect on changing the dynamics within the College. They have been enthusiastically welcomed by our students, who appreciate their collective attitude, dedication, and interest in optimizing their educational experience. This “New Faculty Dream Team” joins an excellent core group of established faculty in an effort to provide the best possible education for our students. The new faculty and their respective start dates include Assistant Clinical Professors Catherine (“Katie”) Kerr-Niermann, OD (Fall 2016), Patrick Stark, OD (Fall 2016), Casey Hamm, OD (Fall 2016), Linda Nguyen Du, OD (Fall 2016), Sarah Sweeney Dohrman, OD (Spring 2018), Coral Pucci, OD (Fall 2018), and Jessica Tu, OD (Fall 2018).

Many of our student leaders are in agreement as it pertains to our new generation of educators. Kyle Carnahan (’21) says, “It is a great time to be a student at UMSL College of Optometry due to the major progress the school has made in regards to hiring the best possible faculty members. The new faculty members are young, full of energy and are extremely passionate about optometry. Many of them graduated not too long ago and are able to fully relate to their students and are willing to help in any way. Each day when you go to class you expect class to be interesting and engaging, and you know you are getting the best optometric education available.” Rachel Simpson (’19) agrees. “UMSL College of Optometry just keeps getting better! These new professors add to the family-feel of the college. I chose UMSL because, while I’m sure I could get a great education at any optometry school, the faculty and staff at UMSL are nurturing and nice.” Her professional partner Kate Hamm (’19) concurs. “I have really enjoyed working with our new faculty. I have learned so much from each of them. Each of the new faculty members truly cares about students and wants each of us to be the best doctor we can be. I feel so supported, and feel like they understand the student experience. I am excited to see how we are becoming a program focused on bringing the best and brightest to teach us at UMSL!”  The diversity in experiences and abilities provided by our new faculty has not gone unnoticed by students. Lauren Ward (’20) reflects, “The new faculty taken on by UMSL Optometry are not only extremely qualified, but they are innovative, passionate, and come from a wide variety of disciplines, allowing each to make their own mark here at UMSL Optometry. I am confident I am getting the best education at UMSL thanks to our existing faculty and the incredible new additions.”  Finally, it is evident that students appreciate and recognize that the talents of our new faculty complement those of our long-term faculty. Justin Kendall (’20) adds, “Having the opportunity to engage with the new faculty has been an incredibly rewarding experience. They consistently push us to get the most out of our educational experiences in clinic and in the classroom. They exude positivity, which is so impactful for us as students as we push our way through such rigorous coursework. The new faculty members have already made a huge change in the culture here at UMSL, and their impact will continue to grow as the program moves forward!”  Dean Larry Davis has been very pleased as well as he relates: “Our new faculty colleagues have instilled renewed vigor into many areas of the curriculum and provide new opportunities to expand the range of services offered through UMSL Eye Care. We are very excited to add such high caliber individuals to our dedicated group of excellent faculty instructors, mentors and scholars.”

Communicating Low Vision and Ophthalmic Optics Effectively and with Passion:  Dr. Catherine Kerr-Niermann

optometry_201809_b_0620cDr. Kerr-Niermann comes to UMSL with a variety of good experiences.  After graduating from the Southern College of Optometry in 2013, she completed a residency in Low Vision with an emphasis in Ocular Disease from the University of California-Berkeley. After working in a private practice in California, she moved to Missouri and worked in both an OD-MD practice at Mercy Hospital in Washington, Missouri, and assisted Dr. Katie Boland with UMSL’s Low Vision program.  Her current teaching responsibilities include the Ophthalmic Optics course, the Low Vision Clinic at the PCC, and third year primary care clinical instruction at both the PCC and Lindell Eye Center.

  • What attracted you to applying for a faculty position at UMSL?

“I really enjoyed my low vision teaching experience during residency and was enthusiastic about getting back into academia. I was raised in St. Peters and was looking forward living closer to my family.”

  • How has your experience been since joining the faculty?

“The UMSL College of Optometry is a fantastic place to work. The students are a joy to teach due to their curiosity, drive, and kindness. I have been fortunate to be given the opportunity to teach these gifted students in class and clinic.”

It is evident that the students are very impressed, especially as she taught Ophthalmics Optics for the first time in Fall 2018. Kyle Carnahan (’21) relates, “Dr. Kerr-Niermann did a wonderful job at taking a tough course and simplifying it to make it manageable and fun.” Steven Henderson (‘21) agrees, “Dr. Kerr-Niermann’s notes are so thorough, I could study for boards straight from them!” Katelyn Flood (’21) greatly appreciates her attitude. “Dr. Niermann is so joyful and passionate about her work, it shines through in her teaching. Her enthusiasm for ophthalmic optics and low vision was contagious, and it made me truly enjoy learning from her.”

Making Pre-Clinic and Clinical Education Enjoyable and Worthwhile: Dr. Patrick Stark

stark_patrick_201807_0339cDr. Stark is a College of Optometry graduate, a member of the high-achieving 2012 class. He then completed a residency in Family Practice/Ocular Disease at the NSU College of Optometry in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  He joined the clinical faculty at NSU for a few years before returning to St. Louis to work for a year in private practice prior to joining the UMSL faculty.  He currently teaches in all four years of the program.  For the first year students he teaches ocular anatomy as well as the problem-based learning course.  He teaches the clinical optometry laboratory course sequence for the second year students, precepts Primary Care Clinic for the third year students, and Pediatric/Binocular Vision and Community Service Clinics for the fourth year students.

  • What attracted you to applying for a faculty position at UMSL?

“When a position opened up for faculty at UMSL, being a St. Louis native and wanting to return, I jumped at the opportunity.  It was ideal, being an academic institution in the city I wanted to be in, and would allow for me to continue working closely with students.”

  • How has your experience been since joining the faculty?

“I love to work with the students, and enjoy getting to see them progress.  Having had the current fourth year students in problem-based learning as first years, it is fun to see them in clinic and seeing patients with conditions that were in the mystery cases we used in their first year.  Talking to them, they don’t always realize how far they have come since that first semester trying to figure out how pupil testing works, but from the outside it is easier to see, and I feel very proud of them for all that they are able to achieve. I remember when I was applying for the position that I was a little nervous to work with the people who had been my instructors not too long before, but it has been a great experience and the faculty and staff have all been very welcoming and helpful.  It was not awkward at all joining the team, and has been great working alongside all the people I looked up to as a student.  It has also been fun for me to have some great new colleagues that were hired around the same time as me to go through the adjustments of being a new faculty member with.  I’ve really enjoyed my return to UMSL.”

His effort and dedication has not gone unnoticed by the students. Kyle Carnahan (’21) states, “Dr. Stark is a lot of fun to have in class. He makes class a good time and is full of encouragement and tips for how to be more successful in clinic.” Lauren Ward (’20) adds, “One of my toughest cases starting in clinic was with Dr. Stark. I was thankful for his patience, professionalism, and knowledge. Dr. Stark is a great teacher in that he can explain traditional concepts in new ways, and I was fortunate to have been able to work with him in our problem-based learning small groups.” One of the greatest compliments one could give Dr. Stark is that he appears to have some of the same qualities as Dr. Carl Bassi, notably the ability to take difficult concepts and make them simple. Katelyn Flood (’21) comments, “Dr. Stark is such a great clinician to learn from. Even though he is brilliant, he can easily break things down to a level that patients can easily understand and helps us to develop those skills as well.”

An Exceptional Clinician Pushing Our Students to Perform at the Highest Level:  Dr. Casey Hamm

hamm_casey_201807_0324cLike Dr. Stark, Dr. Casey Hamm was an outstanding UMSL graduate (Class of 2015). She then completed a residency in Primary Care with emphasis in Ocular Disease at Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  She immediately (and successfully) took on the daunting task of teaching Biochemistry to the first year class.  She is also a co-instructor for Foundations of Ocular and Systemic Disease & Management III. Dr. Hamm is a laboratory co-instructor for both the Clinical Optometry I course and the ocular disease sequence, and she teaches both the first year and third year problem-based learning courses.

  • What attracted you to applying for a faculty position at UMSL?

“Teaching has always been a passion and career goal of mine, so I was on the look-out for faculty opportunities throughout my residency. When I learned of the positions available at UMSL, deciding to apply was a no-brainer. Many of the elements that attracted me to a faculty position were the same ones I was already familiar with through attending UMSL as an optometry student— such as the small class sizes, the personable, knowledgeable, and supportive faculty (now colleagues), and the state-of-the-art, brand-new clinic! Being a smaller school, I also appreciated the opportunity to dive in to a lecturer role in my first semester as the instructor of the first year Biochemistry course.”

  • How has your experience been since joining the faculty?

“My experience at UMSL has been wonderful thus far, and only continues to grow more enjoyable as I ‘learn the ropes’ of being on faculty. Returning to my alma mater directly from residency, I wondered if it would be strange to become colleagues with professors who had so recently instructed me as a student. However, the other faculty have been nothing but supportive, encouraging, and helpful to us ‘newbies’ as we have taken on this role. The students keep every day exciting, and it is so rewarding to see them go from their first day of class to their first day of patient care to leaving for their clinical externships. I am especially excited to witness the Class of 2020 graduate next spring, as they were my first class to have in entirety from first year onward. I consider myself very fortunate to have such a varied, stimulating, and fulfilling career at UMSL!”

Dr. Hamm’s passion has been recognized by the students. Madison Moss (’20) offers, “Dr. Hamm is an admirable OD and person in general. Not only is she brilliant in the classroom and in clinic, but she has a way of making you feel smart and empowered, as well. I leave every encounter with her feeling confident and equipped to handle the next situation. Her passion in the classroom shines through in clinical experiences, and it is a privilege to learn from her.”  A very important attribute of Dr. Hamm’s is pushing the students to achieve excellence. Kyle Carnahan (’21) comments, “Dr. Hamm is an awesome clinical instructor. She is extremely knowledgeable and is always willing to help you improve your skills. She has high expectations of her students and wants to make sure everyone becomes a skillful and successful doctor.” Lauren Ward (’20) agrees. “I always look forward to working with Dr. Hamm in primary care clinic. She consistently challenges me with clinical questions while pushing me to stay up-to-date on my optometric knowledge in order to best care for patients. Whenever I get to care for patients under her guidance I am guaranteed to learn and grow as a clinician.”

Dedication and Positive Reinforcement: Dr. Linda Nguyen Du

nguyen_linda_201807_0352cDr. Linda Nguyen Du brought a dual interest and expertise in both ocular disease and binocular vision to UMSL.  After completing her Doctor of Optometry degree at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, she completed a Residency degree in ocular disease at the Marion, Illinois VAMC. She also completed a Master’s Degree in Vision Science investigating the effects of home-based computer Perceptual Therapy System II (PTS II) in grade-school children.   Her teaching responsibilities include ocular motility, comprehensive case review and analysis, as well as Introduction to Clinical Diagnostic Reasoning.  She also serves as a clinical preceptor in the Primary Care, Ocular Disease, and Pediatric clinics and coordinates the College Case Grand Rounds program.

  • What attracted you to applying for a faculty position at UMSL?

“The opportunity to work alongside amazing faculty and wonderful students to contribute, further, and advance our optometric profession. The faculty position at USML has allowed me to participate in the local as well as national optometric communities and even on the international level with involvement on mission trips.”

  • How has your experience been since joining the faculty?

My experience with UMSL Optometry has been nothing short of amazing since joining. Each day, I feel blessed to help and take care of patients alongside the faculty and students in pediatric clinic at the University Eye Center, the Mobile Eye Van, as well as primary care clinic at a satellite community health care center. It is great to see the students grow in the classrooms and clinics with each passing semester and to encourage them to pursue residency and further post-optometry training after graduation. I enjoy the opportunities to work with students in each class level from first years to the fourth years, as well as to work with a range of patients from pediatrics to geriatrics.”

Students of any age will perform better if given positive reinforcement.  That is Dr. Du, as Lauren Ward (’20) states, “Dr. Du is one of my favorite clinicians to work with. She is always full of encouragement and acknowledgement when you are doing things correctly as a clinician, but unhesitant to quiz you over your patient case, keeping you sharp all day.” Kyle Carnahan (’21) adds, “Dr. Du is the nicest teacher I have ever had. She is always complementing her students and pointing out the positives in them.”

The Born Teacher: Communicating in a Way that Promotes Learning:  Dr. Sarah Sweeney Dohrman

optometry_201809_b_0602cDr. Sweeney Dohrman brought much and varied experience to her faculty position at UMSL.  After graduating from the Southern College of Optometry in 2011, she completed a residency at Vision Care Specialists in Massachusetts, which included primary care, vision therapy, vision rehabilitation, and pediatrics.  She then was in private practice in southern and metro-east Illinois followed by a vision therapy specialty practice in Town and Country, Missouri.  She teaches both the Clinical Optometry II and Clinical Optometry III lecture and laboratory courses as well as problem-based learning.  She is also a third and fourth year clinical preceptor at the East St. Louis Clinic as well as serving a similar role in the Pediatrics Clinic at the PCC.

  • What attracted you to applying for a faculty position at UMSL?

“I remember thinking as a fourth-year student that I’d enjoy being back in academia one day, but felt that I’d be more valuable as an instructor if I could bring experience from real world cases with me. When the opportunity to join the team at UMSL came up, I remembered this moment I had as a student and thought, ‘Well, there’s my sign!’”

  • How has your experience been since joining the faculty?

“When I’m asked the question, ‘How do you like your new job?’ I answer honestly, ‘It’s way more work than just seeing patients, but it’s so much fun.’ I had no idea how natural the transition from private practice to academia would feel, but consider myself lucky to be able to have a position that helps me balance work and family like teaching does. I appreciate the community and support I’ve received from the rest of the faculty and staff and am grateful to be a part of such an amazing team.”

The students – to a person – absolutely love Dr. Sweeney Dohrman as an instructor. Kyle Carnahan (’21) explains, “Dr. Sweeney Dohrman made class exciting every single day. She makes you look forward to attending class because of the energy and passion that she exudes when she is teaching. She does everything she can to prepare you for working in the clinic and she makes sure that you have fun while doing it.”  Lauren Ward (’20) agrees, “Dr. Sweeney-Dohrman has been an incredible addition to UMSL not only in the classroom but in clinic. Her positivity radiates to all of those who get the opportunity to work with her. I always look forward to working with her in clinic, especially in cases pertaining to binocular vision.”  She also has the ability to simplify complex concepts to greatly enhance student learning. Katelyn Flood (’21) says, “In clinic, Dr. Sweeney has an innate ability to come down to our level and explain concepts in a way that we can easily understand when we’ve never heard of it before. She is engaging and challenges us to think clinically in a way we haven’t experienced before.”

A Passion for Teaching and Ensuring Student Learning: Dr. Coral Pucci

201809_B_0610CDr. Pucci is a 2017 graduate of UMSL, where she was selected Student Marshall for the commencement ceremony.  She then completed the Primary Care/Ocular Disease residency program at the Marion, Illinois VAMC prior to accepting her faculty position at UMSL.  Her teaching responsibilities include the pharmacology course and team teaching both the Foundations of Ocular and Systemic Disease Management laboratory and the Binocular Vision and Sensory Processing laboratory.  She also has clinical instructor responsibilities.

 

  • What attracted you to applying for a faculty position at UMSL?

Honestly, I’ve always had a strong tie to academia. As a student, I didn’t intend to become a faculty member this early in my career. Several colleagues brought the idea to my attention as my residency was coming to an end. I had an almost instantaneous realization that this path was more than appropriate; it felt almost predestined. Choosing UMSL was straightforward in that I loved the atmosphere while I was a student at the university. I felt I understood the educational focus and fit well within the environment created by the faculty, staff, and students. In the end, I wanted to give back to a school that gave so much to me. I wanted to help the university continue to grow in a positive direction. I wanted to forge connections, both socially and mentally, within the minds of colleagues and future colleagues that would last a lifetime.”

  • How has your experience been since joining the faculty?

My experience thus far has greatly surpassed my expectations. That is saying something, seeing as I came into this with a solid understanding of the people who shaped this institution and had high expectations from day one. It is really the people who have made the experience so wonderful. The faculty has been extraordinarily welcoming and accepted me into their group without blinking an eye. The students are hardworking and appreciative. There are some moments that are challenging, which can be expected when you are creating new lecture material. However, it is all worthwhile when the students make connections that will matter for the remainder of their careers.”

She has already made quite a positive impact after just one semester of teaching. Kyle Carnahan (’21) comments, “Dr. Pucci was a fantastic new addition to the team. She did a great job teaching a difficult course (pharmacology) as her first class, and she is only going to keep getting better. As a recent graduate, she knew what worked for her as a student and was able to offer a lot of helpful advice.” Madison Moss (’20) agrees. “It has been such a treat to have Dr. Pucci in clinic. She was a fourth-year student during my first year of optometry school, and I met her through AOSA events. Seeing her come full circle and share her wisdom with us in the clinic has been inspiring. It makes me even more confident in this program and excited for the future.” As a well-liked teaching assistant at UMSL prior to her residency, she has had a love for teaching that is very apparent. Lauren Ward (’20) says, “Dr. Pucci is such a positive addition to the UMSL faculty for pharmacology. I got to see her passion for teaching and her love for her students first-hand being her teaching assistant. She is always quizzing me about medications and their processes in clinic, which I find extremely beneficial as I prepare for NBEO.”

Energy, Eagerness, and Ability:  Dr. Jessica Tu

dr jessica tuDr. Tu, who is also profiled in a separate “new faculty member” article in this EyeWire, completed her Doctor of Optometry at InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico School of Optometry.  She then completed a Cornea and Contact Lens Residency program at the Indiana University School of Optometry.  She represents a very welcome addition in an area of need: Contact Lens Clinic education.  In addition to Contact Lens Clinical instruction at the PCC, she serves as a clinical preceptor in the Primary Care Service at both the PCC and the Lindell Eye Clinic, and teaching the Comprehensive Case Review and Analysis course.

  • What attracted you to applying for a faculty position at UMSL?

“I fell in love with precepting and working with students as a resident. Students stimulate creative thinking, and are always keeping me on my toes. No one ever had anything bad to say about UMSL. My mentor, Jason Jedlicka, had recommended that I apply for the position at UMSL, and upon visiting the campus, it just felt right to be there. The faculty/staff were all very friendly and the students all seemed genuinely happy. There was a strong connection and bond between everyone that generated a “close family” environment. Since arriving, all my expectations have been met, and then some more.”

  • How has your experience been since joining the faculty?

“Since starting in November, I could not be more happy. Again, the students are all genuinely, very happy to be here. They are very respectful and never had I expected such a warm welcome. The faculty and staff have met all my needs without me asking (set up my computer, get keys for office, clinic, etc.). I have gotten to know many of the faculty on a personal basis as well, and that has been a wonderful experience because it makes me feel like we are all here to take care of one another. Communication between faculty/staff/students is the best I have seen at any school: there is constant exchange of information, and I feel like faculty meetings are a safe place to express any concerns, yet relaxed enough that everyone has a good time.”

Even in the brief time she has been at UMSL, Dr. Tu has made a very positive impact. Leslie Kinder (’19) states, “Dr. Tu is a great addition and will only become more valuable. She is incredibly friendly and willing to share her knowledge in such a fun and kind way that it makes clinical learning feel effortless.”  The ideas and energy initiated by a young faculty member are attracting attention. Lulette Fermil (’19) comments, “Dr. Tu is a great addition to the faculty. I learned a lot working with her, not just about contact lenses but also to remember to consider what the patient asks for and not just give them what I think they may need. She came in with a fresh look on current clinic procedures and is already working on how to make things more efficient and conducive to learning.” Madison Moss (’20) agrees. “Bringing Dr. Tu onto the scene has been such a benefit to our Contact Lens clinic. She offers fresh ideas, gentleness in teaching, and eagerness in being involved. She fits in so well with our clinic staff, and I am excited to get to know her even better.”

The new faculty dream team has distinguished themselves due to their combination of knowledge, passion, dedication, and ability to educate students. It is evident that they have assumed the teaching responsibility for many important core courses in the curriculum. As the student leaders have commented, they have performed their responsibilities extremely well and helped elevate the quality of education provided by the College of Optometry. We are so fortunate to have this exceptional group of rising stars on our faculty. Stay tuned for Fall 2019, when they will be joined by three more new faculty, who will benefit from the mentorship and example set by these seven exceptional young educators.

 

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