Rachel Antwi-Boasiako, a junior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., was conflicted about what she wanted to do with her life. While pursuing a degree in biological sciences with a minor in psychology, she was struggling with the intent for her future career path.
And, then she met Shanae Johnson, MBA, an admissions officer at Salus University, at a Rutgers Office for Diversity and Inclusion in Sciences event.
“I had this long conversation with her. I was very conflicted about what I wanted to do and she told me about optometry and how I could still work with pediatrics, which is something I’m very passionate about,” said Antwi-Boasiako, a resident of North Brunswick, N.J. “And, then she told me about the Optometry Learning Experience at Salus, so I registered and got accepted.”
Antwi-Boasiako was one of 35 prospective students who attended the annual Optometry Learning Experience (OLE) the week of Jan. 6, 2020, at the University’s Elkins Park, Pa. campus. The OLE program, which has been a part of the University’s Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) for approximately four decades, is designed to offer participants an opportunity to step into the shoes of students in the Doctor of Optometry (OD) program, as well as offer a general outlook on the profession of optometry as a whole.
“We bring them to our campus and let them engage with different students, take different courses, learn more about the profession, hear from our faculty and tour the facilities,” said Johnson. “I think it’s important because it actually gives them a hands-on learning experience of what optometry is and what it would be like to be an optometry student.”
Annie Tsai, from Allentown, Pa., graduated from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., in May 2019 with a double major in biology and healthcare, applied and was accepted to attend this year’s program. The notoriety of PCO’s program along with the early clinical exposure component was attractive to her.
“One of the things I really like about this program is the clinical demonstration workshop that we saw where we got to interact with the equipment that optometry students use to learn for the profession,” said Tsai. “I really enjoyed sitting in on one of the first-year classes on retinal development. That was really cool.”
Tsai added she is committed to a career in optometry and the OLE program has helped convince her that Salus PCO is the place where she wants to achieve that goal.
The OLE program was divided into two sessions of two-and-a-half days each over the course of a full week. When the students weren’t in sessions, they had the opportunity to explore the greater Philadelphia area. Some took the train into the city for a visit to Reading Terminal and there were two evenings where the University sponsored dinners to give the students – all from different undergrad institutions – an opportunity to get to know each other.
Schools represented by the students attending included Binghamton University, Brandeis University, Cabrini University, George Mason University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, James Madison University, Lafayette College, LaSalle University, Moravian College, Mount St. Mary’s University, Penn State University, Rowan University, Rutgers University (New Brunswick and Newark), Shippensburg University, Spelman College, St. John Fisher College, SUNY Geneseo, Syracuse University, Temple University, University of Maryland Global Campus, University of Waterloo (the first time the program has hosted a Canadian student), West Chester University and Wilkes University.
“I’m the secretary of the Pre-Optometry Society at my school and we were searching for different events to attend. One of our advisors suggested this program, so I figured it would be a great opportunity to come and learn more,” said Malai Williams, of Montgomeryville, Pa., a junior at Penn State University studying neuro-psychology.
Williams also attended the first-year retinal development class and was impressed by what she saw.
“And, then we got to see the clinical skills (lab)
and the equipment they use,” she said. “We also used the virtual reality lab
, and that was cool because I’m really drawn to optometry because of all of the technology.”
The OLE experience helped convince Williams she was on the right path.
“I’m sold not only on optometry as a career, but also on Salus University as the institution where I’d like to go,” she said.
That’s exactly the point of the OLE program, according to Johnson.
“The program has been around for about 40 years and there have been students during my time here at Salus who go through the program, interview for optometry school, and then are admitted to Salus,” said Johnson. “It’s nice to see them blossom from the OLE program to a current student. This is an extremely valuable program for us.”