Posted in UMSL Daily by Heather Rise, photos by August Jennewein

Dr. Erin Brooks

Brooks doesn’t always have time to get to the laundry – but that’s just fine with her. Whether she’s seeing a patient of her own, teaching first-year students about anatomy and physiology, assisting students with equipment as a representative for the American Optometric Student Association or tutoring students for their boards, she certainly keeps herself busy.

“I work really hard – I’m tired most of the time,” she said with a laugh. “Sometimes my house isn’t clean. But at the end of the day, I am so glad I do the job I do. I can have a really hard day and be like, ‘Oh yeah, but I changed this patient’s life’ or ‘I helped the student really understand.’ And it’s all worth it.”

Brooks has a long history at UMSL, having earned her BS in chemistry, OD and MS in vision science from the university before joining the faculty at the College of Optometry. Thanks to a not-so-gentle nudge from her parents, she always knew she would study optometry, although she joked at the time that she chose to study chemistry instead so she’d have something to fall back on if she hated optometry. Luckily, that wasn’t a problem. During a meeting with the Pre-Optometry Club, she was able to see what optometrists see when they’re giving an exam, and she was quickly hooked. “I could see myself doing that for the rest of my life,” she thought.

While studying optometry was an easy decision for Brooks, she took a more circuitous route to teaching, initially planning to work in a private practice upon graduation. Although she’s always loved teaching, it wasn’t until she began tutoring students and helping her own classmates understand their coursework that she truly considered doing it professionally. Still, teaching remained a part-time endeavor until a fateful conversation with a contact lens representative at the practice where she was working.

“He said, ‘I know you love your patients – you really do want to take care of them,’” she remembered. “But I want you to know that when you talk about teaching, your eyes light up. That is where you shine.”

Brooks, now associate clinical professor of optometry, joined the College of Optometry in 2011 and has quickly become known for going the extra mile to ensure her students’ success, whether through her extensive tutoring program for boards or by staying after hours to talk through patient care with a student. She’s also passionate about outreach to the larger community, having lent her talents to UMSL Eye Care’s Pupil Project and Girls, Inc. And in 2021, she was featured on the cover of AOA Focus, the American Optometric Association’s magazine, for a story that examined racial and ethnic diversity within the industry.

Dr. Vinita Henry, a clinical professor of optometry, said Brooks is a “resource and listening ear for students,” specifically highlighting her work tutoring students for optometry boards on her own time, devising a plan to get students back into clinics during the pandemic and working with Girls, Inc. to encourage young minority girls to think about health sciences as a career.

“I believe that her passion, enthusiasm, tireless efforts and tremendous devotion to students make her an UMSL Hero,” Henry wrote.

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