Each year the graduating class elects one faculty member to receive the Outstanding Optometry Educator of the Year award. This award is sponsored by Beta Sigma Kappa, and is given to a faculty member who demonstrates a genuine care for the students, the profession, and the ongoing effort to engage learning in either the classroom or in the clinical setting. The class of 2020 selected Dr. Sarah Sweeney Dohrman to receive this award. Dr. Sweeney Dohrman joined UMSL in January 2018, and she jumped right in to teaching Clinical Optometry III.
Eyewire: Describe your relationship with the Class of 2020. What do you think made that so special?
Dr. Sweeney Dohrman: There’s a few things I think. When I joined UMSL, I felt overwhelmed trying to balance a new stage in my career and a new baby at home. I was pretty honest – maybe too honest now that I think about it! – with where I was coming from, and I really relied on the students to let me know how I could best help round out their clinical instruction to prepare them for real-world patient care. They were responsive and welcoming and made the first semester seem like we were getting through it together. Even though I was exhausted and busier than ever, I always looked forward to seeing them in lab or lecture, and they truly kept me going. They didn’t choose to be a “guinea pig” class, but I feel I learned more from them than they did from me that first semester.
Eyewire: How has your teaching evolved since you started at the college?
Dr. Sweeney Dohrman: I still feel very much like a new instructor, as there’s been enough shift and change in curriculum to keep me on my toes each semester, but I feel more capable and confident than I did at first. A lot of that has to do with the tremendous support from the faculty and staff, and with learning to rely on other instructors’ experience. Utilizing their insights has helped to create a richer learning environment for the students. Keeping up with newer resources and methods of learning makes me feel kind of old and out of touch, but by incorporating students’ feedback, both positive and negative, I hope they’re able to get more out of their time in the course.
Eyewire: How did you feel when you were named Outstanding Optometry Educator?
Dr. Sweeney Dohrman: I felt a lot of things! It’s been such a funny year so far, and I think the same stress and exhaustion everyone has been experiencing has kind of kept it from sinking in. I feel there are many members of the faculty that do so much more for the students and who work so hard to make their education and experience possible. I think I was just in the right place at the right time.
Eyewire: Any words of wisdom to the Class of 2020 and current students?
Dr. Sweeney Dohrman: To the Class of 2020: Thank you for being so receptive and hard-working. I look back and think about how challenging that first semester at UMSL was, but it would’ve been way tougher if you all weren’t so accepting and driven. Thank you for making us proud! You’re an outstanding group of doctors and I couldn’t be happier to call you colleagues. And thank you for laughing at all of my jokes and eating all of my brownies. To current students: Four years seems like a long time, but it goes by so quickly. Enjoy your education and don’t forget to enjoy each other, too. Work hard and work together!”