Group photo of the DICE MsC7 cohort

This is the second of a two-part series on the history and evolution of Salus University’s current Department of International and Continuing Education (DICE).

DICE designs and implements profession-specific and interprofessional micro-credential and degree programs to provide a broad array of training. "Students worldwide advance their knowledge and skills through face-to-face, virtual (synchronous and asynchronous), and hybrid delivery models,” explained Melissa Vitek, OD '95, FAAO, dean of DICE.

Dr. Vitek began her academic career as an instructor at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) in 2000, and took on a PCO administrative role in 2011 as the liaison for international and continuing education within the Office of Professional Studies and International Programs (PSIP), which was the name of the University-level department run by then-director, Melissa Padilla, MPH ‘13.

International student performing an eye exam on a patientBetween 2011 and 2015, Dr. Vitek worked with Janice Scharre, OD, MA, FAAO, (special program advisor, then provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Salus) to develop a one-year, full-time, on-campus delivery model for the Master of Science in Clinical Optometry (MSCO) degree with an Advanced Studies certificate program. The first offering was cohort-specific and included eight students from China. Students completing this program earned an MSCO degree and a certificate in a specialized content area, such as contact lenses, binocular vision, vision therapy, and vision impairment and rehabilitation. 

Dr. Vitek’s role was expanded and she became the department director in 2015, and was promoted to dean of DICE in 2021. During her transition, the department continued to diversify.

“Each subsequent cohort, from the original MSCO cohort, has been more diverse and now includes students from across the globe,” said Dr. Vitek. “DICE has educated students from 24 countries, including Bangladesh, Cameroon, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Finland, Ghana, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Kingdom."

In addition to Salus being the only University in the U.S. to offer an MSCO degree and a Master of Science in Audiology (MSCA) degree, it’s the only University to offer a PhD in Biomedicine, which can be specialized in specific healthcare-related professional areas. The diversification of program offerings allowed DICE to diversify its student reach and has helped to expand the program's impact across the globe.  

“I am from Jordan and was looking for optometry programs in the United States. The clinical exposure the MSCO program offered gave me such great experience that I don’t think I would have been able to get anywhere else,” said Muhannad Faouri, MSCO ‘22. “The program provides students with lots of hands-on experience they are missing from just a bachelor’s degree in optometry."

DICE has also proven to be flexible and creative as evidenced by the way it responded to the COVID-related shutdown. For example, the department developed a hybrid delivery track, in addition to its face-to-face track, for the MSCO degree program. Lectures and exams are now virtual; students come to campus only for hands-on clinical training. This helped make the program more accessible for students around the world, and helped the program continue to expand. 

DICE cohort from Taiwan posing with mouth and ear stress toys“Similarly, DICE also reinvented how we offered our Continuing Education (CE) programs,” said Dr. Vitek. “Before COVID, the CE programs were largely in person but now many are delivered virtually. We also created a library of asynchronous lectures, some of which are offered free to Salus alums, and are accessible on the Salus University website.”

Their expanded efforts have proven successful, as the department hosted a virtual interprofessional continuing education program in February, which drew quadruple the number of participants from a similar session in 2019. The program represented eight professions taught at Salus and provided DICE with positive reinforcement of their innovation efforts.

DICE in collaboration with Salus’ Office of Institutional Advancement also hosted a CE by the Sea in 2020 where a group of PCO faculty provided world-class continuing education in Aruba. After a pandemic-induced hiatus, the two departments partnered to bring CE by the Sea back this year in Turks and Caicos. Building on the successes of both destination continuing education events, there are plans for an interprofessional CE by the Sea in 2024 along with an optometry-specific CE in the South.

Against all odds, DICE expanded throughout the pandemic with the support of the University's Board of Trustees and president Michael H. Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE. Since Dr. Vitek’s appointment from program director to dean, the department has doubled in size. With support from admissions and its international partnerships, DICE is poised to further broaden its impact. 
Student performing an eye exam