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MADISON, MS – Aaliyah Cole, a 2017 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, has been named a 2020 recipient of the Mississippi Vision Foundation’s (MVF) Helen Allison St. Clair scholarship for students of optometry.
“We are proud to have a young woman of Ms. Cole’s character, scholarship and leadership to represent the future of the field of optometry as the recipient of the St. Clair scholarship,” said Dr. Kimberly Ragan, president of the Foundation.
Cole, a third-year student at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, is a graduate of Jefferson County High School where she was Valedictorian and the University of Southern Mississippi earning a BS in Biology, Summa Cum Laude, while minoring in Chemistry. She was inducted into the USM Student Hall of Fame. Cole serves as Vice-President of the Mississippi Optometric Student Association, and is a member of the American Optometric Student Association, the National Optometric Student Association and is Chief Editor of SCO’s yearbook. She was selected to participate in the Mississippi Rural Scholars program designed to cultivate well-trained physicians to practice in Mississippi.
“It is an honor to be a 2020 recipient of the Helen St. Clair Scholarship. Growing up in an underserved community, I witnessed a deficit in healthcare and eye care and decided that I wanted to help meet the need. As a current third-year optometry student, I am excited about returning to Mississippi to serve others and provide eye care to those in need. I am truly grateful for this opportunity,” Cole said.
Cole, the daughter of Beatrice and Biven Cole Sr. of Fayette, said her passion for optometry will allow her to serve her community. “Through optometry, I can make an impactful difference in the lives of children with vision-associated learning disabilities that, with proper intervention, could set them on a different path through life. Additionally, I can provide a way for someone who was once unemployed because of vision impairments, to be able to provide for their family with the aid of vision correction and corrective devices. The thought of opening up the world to a child who has had difficulty seeing since a young age or making it possible for a grandparent to see the beautiful faces of their grandchildren motivates me to work hard in my optometric education. In short, I chose optometry to offer the gift of sight to the world and to open the door for endless possibilities,” she said.
The Helen Allison St. Clair Optometry Scholarship was established to honor the memory of long-time Mississippi Optometric Association (MOA) Executive Director Helen Allison St. Clair. Mrs. St. Clair served the MOA for more than 28 years and had a passion for optometry students and doctors. Her family and friends want her passion and service to optometry to live on in the awarding of annual stipends from the scholarship established in her name at the Mississippi Vision Foundation.
Dear SCO family,
Recent events have prompted soul searching and reflection across the country about some of the challenges that we face as Americans. From disparities in healthcare that have affected large segments of our community in the COVID-19 pandemic, to last week's tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and too many others, the deep hurt should be apparent to us all.
Optometrists choose a career in health care because they really want to help others. How we, as an institution, view the world around us helps shape our values. Those values were defined to reflect our desire to impact others through the important work we do. We train our students to listen to their patients, to notice changes in their health, and how to treat each other with professionalism and compassion.
As some of you know, SCO is one of only 23 optometry schools in the nation, so a sizable amount of this country's residents receive their vision care from an SCO graduate. We must work together to make sure that we do everything we can as individuals, and as an institution, to ensure that we don't exist in a silo. We shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that there are those among us who have not been impacted by the need for changes in how society treats segments of our fellow citizens. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I know firsthand what hate can do to families and individuals.
Just last month, SCO's first female African-American graduate passed away. Dr. Adedayo Olympio was a 1983 graduate who practiced in Springdale, Maryland. The fact that it took 51 years after SCO was founded for her to become SCO's first female African-American graduate should tell you how slowly change can take place. As a society, we cannot continue hoping that more changes occur without us doing our part to help ensure that all Americans achieve equality in the 21st century.
Think how disturbing it would be if one of your coworkers or fellow students were to be targeted with excessive force or treated unjustly because of their race in violation of equal protection under the law. Many of the people in our lives have experienced fear and anger, and we must do a better job in hearing them and understanding them.
SCO remains committed to providing an inclusive, safe, and welcoming community for everyone. As part of our values, we promote respect and integrity. Please do your part to help change hearts and minds so we can be part of the solution. We use the term "family" a lot at SCO. Just remember that when one member of our family hurts, we all do. Let's all do our part to make sure that all members of our family feel heard and are respected equally.
Thank you all for caring,
The Class of 2021 recently participated in the Spring 2020 Continuous Quality Improvement Project where students work on problem-solving exercises to recommend clinical care ideas that can be implemented in future workplaces.
Dr. Jim Venable, Vice President for Clinical Programs said: "This year's submissions were the most impressive of any year thus far, so much so that I have decided to increase the award amounts in order that each member of the respective teams can benefit more."
Dr. Venable's team of judges announced these winners for the Spring 2020 Continuous Quality Improvement Project:
First Place, splitting a $1,500 prize for their proposal for improving the patient experience in Contact Lens: Student Doctors Daniel Bloemer, Mario Martinez, Noelle Schmitter-Schrier, Greyson Ramos, and Sara Stockwell.
Second Place, splitting a $1,000 prize for "Extreme Makeover - TEC Optical Edition": Student Doctors Autumn Killop, Emily Laga, Samantha Lee, Michelle Nagro, Casey Oltman, and John Tompkins.
Third Place, splitting a $500 prize for Improving Contact Lens Insertion and Removal Training: "Student Doctors Michael Sayonh, Lindsey McCallon, Emily Barron, Trevor Smith, and Bret Brill.
Dr. Lisa Wade, who teaches the Practice Management course, added about the experience: "Given the abrupt and significant changes optometric practices have undergone in the last seven weeks, I think it will be a skill that you will have occasion to use early and often in your optometric career."
Congratulations to SCO's Class of 2020, officially recognized as graduates! Sixty-seven graduates were honored on Tuesday during SCO's 35th annual Senior Awards Ceremony.
Thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends, our graduates received more than $65,000 in awards in recognition of their outstanding academic and clinical achievements!
Additional congratulations are in order for:
Dr. Callie Mashburn, named valedictorian.
Dr. Torrie Garner, named salutatorian.
The class also named Dr. Chris Borgman its Teacher of the Year and bestowed recognition on Drs. Betty Harville, Bernard Sparks, and Jennifer Snyder.
Ron Jones was also honored from the staff side, and additional appreciation was expressed to Blink Diner's Melissa Williams and Glaze Hardage.
In order to preserve bandwidth and ensure a smoother video process, award recipients were invited to a Microsoft Teams session where they could appear on camera to speak. You may view that video version below:
SCO Class of 2020 Awards Ceremony (1) from Southern College of Optometry on Vimeo.
There's also a YouTube livestream version without the on-camera portions.
For better quality viewing, the standalone Class of 2020 senior video has also been added to Vimeo:
A PDF program has been created to recognize the award recipients and the Class of 2020. Copies will be printed and mailed to graduates.
The PDF and related links can be found on the SCO website's commencement section.
Events have continued to unfold at a rapid pace related to the national emergency response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Public and private institutions are on the frontlines helping the nation flatten the infection curve to keep cases from overwhelming our healthcare system’s capacity to assist those most at risk, including seniors and those with underlying chronic health conditions.
In consultation with our senior leadership and other institutions, Southern College of Optometry has decided to prioritize public health safety. As noted in previous communications, while no COVID-19 cases have been reported at SCO, the increasing number of infections poses serious risks to students, employees, and others in clinical settings.
Taking into consideration the public health risks to clinical eyecare delivery, we have a number of critical updates to communicate:
By working together, we hope to do our part to help minimize the spread of this infectious pandemic. As soon as we’re able to resume in a safe manner, SCO will do so. We understand the concern students will feel about their academic progress. Please know that the college will continue working with ACOE and others in our field for best practice recommendations.
Please monitor your email, the college’s website, and social media for additional updates. As stressful as this unprecedented situation may seem, we are mindful that there are thousands of infected patients across the nation and many more around the globe. As educators and healthcare providers, society looks to institutions like SCO for trust when it comes to patient care safety.
Individual questions are welcomed as this situation unfolds. SCO appreciates your continued commitment to the high standards that have made the college a leader in optometric education and the region’s leading eyecare provider. SCO was founded during the Great Depression and survived WWII when most of our students were called away to service. With your cooperation, we can work together through this latest challenge and emerge stronger when this crisis passes.
Lewis Reich, O.D., Ph.D.
Southern College of Optometry