"Not only do UH College of Optometry graduates get a great clinical and academic education, but they also learn how to be great leaders," explained Dr. Stacie Virden, president of the association. The dean said the awards, bestowed at the association's 109th annual convention, underscore the college's commitment to producing top-quality practitioners and providing excellent patient care.
"Being named the optometrist of the year by the association was a fantastic surprise - a tremendous honor. Because the association has played such a prominent role in the history of the College of Optometry, this award is particularly gratifying," said Smith, who received both his doctorate of optometry and his Ph.D. from UH. "I believe that it reflects the broad support in the profession for the college - and especially for our efforts to become the premier optometric teaching and research institution. In that sense, this award is shared by all the faculty and staff of the college."
Smith, who joined the faculty in 1978 and has led the college as dean since 2003, has been honored by the association before. In 2003, he was named the educator of the year. "The close and supportive relationship that exists between the college and the association is evident in these selections," said Jerald Strickland, UH's assistant vice chancellor and assistant vice president for international studies and programs. "Dean Smith and professors Gee and Gonzales are outstanding examples of the spirit and commitment to give back in numerous ways to the residents of Texas and the profession of optometry. My sincere congratulations are extended to each of them."
Smith won the Glenn Fry Award from the American Academy of Optometry for his research in 1996 and received UH's Amoco Teaching Excellence Award in 1994. He has served as president of the American Optometric Foundation, as chairman of the National Institutes of Health's Central Visual Processing Study Section and as a member of the NIH's National Advisory Eye Council.
Gee, an assistant clinical professor who earned his doctorate of optometry from UH in 2002, combined his lifelong interest in athletics with his expertise in optometry and patient care by founding the Sports Vision Performance Center at the University Eye Institute last year. The center, which evaluates and treats professional, amateur and weekend athletes seeking to enhance their visual systems and athletic performance, provides eye exams, vision correction, eye-hand coordination exercises and protective eyewear. Gee was gracious in accepting his award. "I think back to all the previous recipients and their accomplishments, as well as those that make things happen behind the scenes, and I am truly humbled," said Gee, who serves on the association's board of directors and is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry. "I have been blessed to have the support of family and mentors, not to mention patients that trust my care, throughout my early professional career." Gonzales, a clinical assistant professor, graduated from UH in 2006 and completed his ocular disease residency at the BridgeBuilders Eye Clinic in Dallas, where he now supervises eight UH externship participants each semester.
Since 2004, the college has worked with the BridgeBuilders clinic to expand its ophthalmic services. Today, it provides free medical eye exams and glasses to about 50 patients each day, manages patients' ocular disease and raises awareness of glaucoma among the poor. "When I received the award, I was honestly taken aback. I don't do anything special. All I try to do is impact as many students as I can every day, and I am so fortunate that it translates," he said. For Gonzales, arriving at BridgeBuilders was a homecoming of sorts. His father grew up in the housing projects connected to the clinic's buildings, and his mother was raised just down the street. "My family made it out, and I am the first doctor in our family. I feel very honored being able to care for other families like people did for my parents' families in their hard times," he said. "These patients don't have the means with which to take care of themselves, so quite often they have to live with systemic and eye diseases going untreated. It's quite an amazing thing we have here with the Dallas housing authority, a church-based ministry and a state university all working to make this thing happen." Gonzales said hadn't planned to become an educator but feels fortunate to have found a career he is passionate about and is able to pass along to others. "I have been impacted and have learned from every student I've encountered as well, so this is really a shared award," he said.
About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.
About the UH College of Optometry
For more than 50 years, the University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO) has trained optometrists to provide the highest quality eye and vision care. One of only 17 optometry schools in the United States, UHCO offers a variety of degree programs, including Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), a combined Doctor of Optometry/Doctor of Philosophy (O.D./Ph.D.), Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).UHCO consists of 65 full-time faculty, 206 adjunct faculty and 100 full-time staff.
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