Dear University of Houston Faculty and Staff:
I am pleased to announce Dr. Earl L. Smith III, Greeman-Petty Professor in Vision Development in the University of Houston College of Optometry, as the 2021 Esther Farfel Award recipient. Dr. Smith’s outstanding accomplishments in vision research, professional and graduate teaching, and service to his college, the university, and the profession have earned him this recognition.
Established in 1979, the Farfel Award is the highest honor accorded to only one faculty member each year at the University of Houston (UH). To receive it, a professor must demonstrate excellence in teaching, research, and service. The award is named for Esther Farfel, the wife of Aaron Joseph Farfel who was a member of the University of Houston System Board of Regents. Mr. Farfel served on the Board for 16 years and established the award to honor his wife.
Dr. Smith has been a faculty member at the University of Houston since 1978. He received his OD in 1972 and his PhD in 1978 from UH and subsequently joined the faculty of the College of Optometry. During his tenure, he has served as the Chair of the Basic Sciences Department, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, Dean of the College of Optometry, and as the Interim Chief Health Officer of the University of Houston. "The Farfel Award is the highlight of my academic career. This award is particularly meaningful to me because I came to UH as a student in 1968 and have spent my entire academic life here…a rare privilege," said Dr. Smith.
Dr. Smith is an internationally acknowledged expert on myopia, also known as nearsightedness. His original research findings are seminal works in the field and his work on myopia has been translated to successful human clinical trials that has improved long-term eye health for patients and has been the foundation for the development of optical devices such as glasses and contact lenses that reduce the burden of myopia. His research has earned him multiple awards including the Prentice Medal in 2010 from the American Academy of Optometry and recognition as a Distinguished Scholar and Fellow by the National Academy of Practice in Optometry in 2012. Professor Smith has published over 200 peer-reviewed publications and received 38 years of continuous research funding from the National Institute of Health’s National Eye Institute (NIH/NEI). He also has five US patents related to his work on myopia.
Professor Smith is an outstanding educator. He has been continually involved in the education of professional optometry and graduate students since his initial appointment as an Assistant Professor in 1978. He has served as a member on 49 Masters or PhD committees, including 10 PhD students as the primary mentor. He has also mentored post-doctoral and junior faculty members toward successful independent research careers. During his tenure as Dean, he helped junior faculty towards independent research careers, including serving as a consultant on an Assistant Professor’s first research project grant. In 2003, The Texas Optometric Association presented him with the Educator of the Year award. In 2015, the American Optometric Association inducted him into National Optometry Hall of Fame.
Dr. Smith’s service to the college, University, and profession are unmatched. Recently, at the University level, he served on the Health 2 Building Committee, the Medical School Advisory Committee, and the College of Medicine Associate Dean Search Committee. His vision for and construction of the Health 1 building for Optometry and the University contributed to the expansion of the healthcare mission at UH. At the professional level, he has been a reviewer for and chair of numerous NIH/NEI study sections including chair of many special emphasis panels, and as a member of the prestigious National Advisory Eye Council. He has served nearly every major organization in optometry, holding key leadership positions, including President of the Association for Schools & Colleges of Optometry and the American Academy of Optometry’s Foundation. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research and Optometry Giving Sight.
Please join me in congratulating Dr. Smith for his exceptional service to the University of Houston and on this well-deserved distinction.