STEM students visit Salus

Sean Lewis ‘23OD wanted the students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program at Hardy Williams Mastery Charter High School in Philadelphia to take some knowledge home with them about the profession of optometry.

But there was also something in it for him.

Student taking eye test“I wish I had that type of exposure to optometrists at that age, especially ones who looked like me,” said Lewis. “I enjoyed working with the students. The experience reinforced my interest in one day combining my professional skill set in academia and optometry by installing rigorous, interactive pre-optometry programs in high schools and colleges.”

Lewis was among a handful of Salus University students who welcomed the high school STEM students to the clinical skills lab on the Elkins Park, Pa. campus March 5. The STEM program provides the opportunity for highly motivated and academically capable high school students from under-represented backgrounds to be innovative, creative and gain experience in the options offered at Salus, including Optometry, Occupational Therapy (OT), Speech-Language Pathology (SLP), Blindness and Low Vision (BLVS) and Physician Assistant (PA) Studies programs.

This is the second year the University’s Office of Admissions has hosted the Hardy Williams Mastery Charter High School students. And, according to Mitchell Thompson, the school’s director of STEM Honors, it’s time well spent for his students.

“One of the things that our students are interested in is medicine and healthcare,” said Thompson. “But they don’t know how many different occupations are within those fields. I try to get them some exposure to those options now because some of them are starting to decide on what colleges they’re going to go to and what majors are being offered. A lot of the students talk about healthcare, but don’t realize the journey has many components to it.”

Eye examAmong the things Lewis and his fellow Salus students showed the high-schoolers were the basics of hand neutralization, which included how to use “with” and “against” motion as well as minification/magnification properties of nearsighted and farsighted glasses respectively to discern what type of glasses a person has. They also cleared up some misconceptions about optometrists’ salaries – the students’ guesses were lower than what optometrists make – and learned how optometrists can save lives by detecting illnesses before other symptoms appear through eye exams.

Tamara Hill-Bennett, OD ‘97, spent a year working at her alma mater after graduating from the University’s Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO). Now in private practice in Philadelphia, Dr. Hill-Bennett volunteers her time to work with both Salus and STEM students when they come to campus.

“This will give them the opportunity to say ‘Hey, when I came to Salus University, I really enjoyed what I learned’ and maybe that can be the tract they go to when they apply for college,” said Dr. Hill-Bennett. “Our students at Salus also get a chance to share their stories, expose others to why they became interested in optometry. And, they get to give back to the community, which is also important.”

Testing the eyes of a studentAfter an hour in the clinical skills lab learning about optometry, the STEM students attended a session with the University’s OT students. During that session, the STEM students had the chance to demonstrate activities of daily living such as dressing and basic body movements. They also learned the anatomy of the body and how to strengthen different areas. The STEM students were fascinated by the activities Salus OT students coordinated. Many of them hadn’t heard of the profession prior to the session, but after spending time in the lab, a few mentioned they are interested in learning more, and possibly pursuing it.  

After visiting both on-campus labs, the STEM students attended lunch in the Hafter Student Center where they received an overview of the SLP, BLVS and PA programs from Salus faculty. The engaging conversation helped the STEM students have a better understanding on how the various careers tie into one another and can work collectively as a healthcare team.

“Our Office of Admissions likes to bring in high school students and give them a sense of the career fields that we have to offer,” said Shanae Johnson, MBA, Salus Admissions officer.  “A lot of these students are from under-represented backgrounds, so it’s important to expose them to different career options. It just gives the students a chance to think about what they want to pursue when they grow up.”
OT demonstration