$5M Pledge to Further Research at Molly and Doug Barnes Vision Institute

Distinguished Alumnus and Wife Support Tier One Vision for UH and College of Optometry

University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO) alumnus Dr. Doug Barnes and his wife, Molly, have made a $5 million pledge to the University of Houston. The gift will be submitted for state matching funds through the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP). The first two floors of the new Health and Biomedical Sciences Building (HBSB) at UH will be named the Molly and Doug Barnes Vision Institute in their honor.

Named a distinguished alumnus at UH this year, Doug Barnes received his Doctor of Optometry degree in 1975 after earning a bachelor’s in business from Western Kentucky University in 1970. Combining his business acumen with his professional qualifications as an optometrist, Barnes founded EyeMart Express in 1990, the first value superstore company with the ability to fill eyeglass prescriptions in a day.

The business has grown to 135 locations in 32 states, stretching across the country from Alaska to Maine, with more than 300 optometrists practicing in the EyeMart Express network. They perform more than one million eye exams and sell two million pairs of prescription eyeglasses annually, with revenues expected in excess of $250 million this year. Both Molly and Doug Barnes stress that this gift to UH would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of all the people involved in the EyeMart Express family.

“Each of the EyeMart Express offices is unique, with the optometrist choosing the mode of practice,” said Earl Smith, dean of UHCO. “It’s a remarkable organization that reflects the ingenuity and creativity of its founder, Doug Barnes. He is truly committed to our profession, and he is arguably our college’s most successful graduate.”

In addition to studying at UHCO during the same time period, both Smith and Barnes pay homage to a long time faculty member, Troy Fannin, who played a key role in getting each of them into the college. Barnes says Fannin has been and continues to be an inspiration to many optometrists.

“Doug and Molly Barnes not only honor us every day with their accomplishments in the field of optometry, but now they also honor the University of Houston with an extraordinary act of philanthropy,” Smith said. “The Barnes’ gift makes possible a shared vision for the future of optometry and optometric education.”

By investing in the future of the profession, this planned expansion will provide novel educational opportunities for the students and innovative facilities for research, including an ambulatory surgery center and laser refractive center on the ground floor and classroom space, a learning center and clinical research labs on the second floor. The heart of the Molly and Doug Barnes Vision Institute will be the state-of-the art ambulatory surgery center, the first of its kind within an optometry school and encompassing 16,000 square feet. It will provide new clinical services for patients, interprofessional educational experiences for students and postgraduate training opportunities for practicing optometrists. The new facility also will include well-equipped laboratories for patient-based research, as well as technically advanced classrooms and a large student commons area for interactive learning.

“I hope our gift helps advance the profession of optometry to a higher level, as well as lift the educational process at the University of Houston,” said Doug Barnes. “With this investment, I wanted to show my appreciation for the College of Optometry for accepting me and educating me years ago. Additionally, I’m impressed with the passion and commitment shown by Dean Earl Smith and President Renu Khator to advance the University of Houston to a higher tier. The university is very fortunate to have them as leaders.”

Since a substantial part of these facilities will be dedicated to research, the $5 million investment is eligible for matching through TRIP. In 2009, the Texas Legislature set aside initial funds through TRIP to match private gifts designated to support research at emerging research universities, with the goal being to assist institutions in leveraging these gifts to enhance research productivity and faculty enrichment. As a result, the Barnes’ gift will be submitted for matching grants of up to an additional $5 million from the state of Texas.

“The opportunity to augment the college’s existing clinical and basic research portfolio with a translational research center, bench-to-bedside, will further open the doors of opportunity at UHCO,” said Kelly Nichols, Foundation for Education and Research in Vision Professor at UHCO. “We strongly believe that the very generous gift given by Molly and Doug Barnes to the Vision Institute will grow exponentially in spirit, hope and resources over the years and allow, in part, for our vision in ocular surface translational research to be realized.”

Now, as in 1971, Barnes says he chose UH for its reputation for offering the best clinical education and has always been very proud of the education he received at UHCO. Students share this sentiment four decades later.

“When looking at optometry schools, I immediately fell in love with this college,” said Mary Beth Emmick, who will be graduating with her O.D. in 2013. “The faculty and staff create an environment that makes learning about the eye and our profession interesting, relevant and fun. My learning experience has been phenomenal, and I feel well prepared to enter the profession.”


About the University of Houston
The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best colleges for undergraduate education. UH serves the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. Located in the nation’s fourth-largest city, UH serves more than 39,500 students in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region in the country. For more information about UH, visit http://www.uh.edu/news-events/.

About the UH College of Optometry
Since 1952, the University of Houston College of Optometry (UHCO) has educated and trained optometrists to provide the highest quality vision care. One of only 20 optometry schools in the country, 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 serves an average of 36,000 patients a year through The University Eye Institute and its satellite clinics.

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