Thank You, Dr. Audrey Smith
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Thank You, Dr. Audrey Smith

drs. smith and huebnerAudrey Smith has worked for nearly four decades at PCO and Salus. Along the way she has created Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS) degree and certificate programs that have broken new ground. Audrey would be the first to say that it took the work of many to achieve this. She would not be wrong; however, for those who have worked alongside her, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that Audrey has provided the “glue,” the vision, the direction, the funding and, on many occasions, the cheerleading.

In the 1970s the Pennsylvania College of Optometry added a low vision component to its West Philadelphia clinic. Low vision specialists Audrey Smith, PhD, and Duane Geruschat, PhD, began working with clients. In 1978, the William Feinbloom Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation was established at The Eye Institute and they worked there with Feinbloom director, Dr. Randy Jose and then Feinbloom resident, Dr. Richard Brilliant.

audrey smithIn 1983, PCO established Graduate Studies in Blindness and Low Vision degree and certificate programs. Audrey led the department and, along with her BLVS colleagues, was responsible for writing much of the material utilized, as there were no textbooks. Current BLVS department chair, Dr. Fabiana Perla, says, “The impact that Audrey has had in the field of blindness and low vision studies is so great, that no one can enter this profession and not know her name and her work. She has authored chapters in our main textbooks and has co-authored books that continue to guide teachers in providing quality orientation and mobility and low vision services nationally and internationally.”

Dr. Thomas L. Lewis, immediate past president of Salus, notes that in the early days the blindness and low vision programs had external funding. The College supplemented it after a time, but he credits Dr. Smith with securing grants to fund the original programs. “Audrey managed over the years to get grant after grant,” he says. “She figured out how to get it done and just did it. She also made great connections with people in Harrisburg and Washington, DC.”

Dr. Anthony Di Stefano, director of Public Health programs and former vice president for Academic Affairs, adds, “Audrey’s leadership was indispensable and uniquely reflected in her ability to secure foundation, state and federal funds. Her continuous funding has been unmatched nationally; when it comes to competitive grant writing she is respected and feared by her peers.” Since 1982, the amount of grants received by PCO/Salus and written by Audrey Smith totals more than $13.5 million. The College of Education and Rehabilitation has been awarded a total of more than $40 million in grant funding under Dr. Smith’s leadership. 

In 2008, Graduate Programs became the University’s College of Education and Rehabilitation (CER), now home to the Departments of Blindness and Low Vision Studies, Occupational Therapy and Speech-Language Pathology. Professor emerita, Dr. Kathleen M. Huebner, former associate dean of the College, has known Audrey for more than fifty years and says Audrey has remained constant in her energy, loyalty, creativity, humor, and stamina. She adds, “How has Audrey changed over the last fifty years you might ask? … She has improved in every way…Today, she is more knowledgeable, caring, robust, creative, flexible, and competent.”

“Working with Audrey has never been dull,” says Dr. Fern Silverman, director of the Occupational Therapy doctoral degree program. “Audrey is truly a visionary in her ability to see what ‘is’ while imagining what ‘could be.’’’ Salus provost, Dr. Janice Scharre, notes that “Audrey is one of the most creative individuals I have known. She cares deeply about her programs, faculty and students and especially Salus.”

Dr. Audrey Smith

Dr. Perla says that “working with Audrey is like being caught in a whirlwind – there is always a new project, an innovative collaboration, a different way to deliver our programs, to reach more people, more states, to serve more students and clients. It is never boring!” This is confirmed by Dr. Lewis, who says that he has never seen a person more passionate about their profession. “She was so passionate about what she did that she was instrumental in taking a profession that had very little visibility and helped to raise its profile.” He also notes that Audrey and Dr. Di Stefano were a great team. “She and Tony would come into my office and tell me, ‘Tom, do we have a deal for you!’ … and Audrey would never take no for an answer. I admire all that she has accomplished.”

Dr. Tony Di Stefano says, “For almost 40 years, Audrey and I have shared a journey which started when Audrey told me about her students at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind and how too often they were treated as if they were totally blind when in fact the majority had varying amounts of remaining vision.” Audrey explained that to a significant extent this was due to the inadequacies of personnel preparation programs serving the blind and visually impaired. As Dr. Di Stefano notes, “The rest is history.”

Dr. Di Stefano believes that “Audrey’s deep commitment to individuals with significant visual impairment, her creativity, resourcefulness, tenacity and deep passion for the human rights of these underserved individuals” have combined to make her “a historical figure in the development of this institution.”

CER “Grant Team” of faculty and staff celebrate a 2009 grant award.  Shown (L to R) are: front row, Dr. Tony Di Stefano; Ms. Tina Fitzpatrick; Mrs. Mary Huebner. Back row: Dr. Audrey Smith; Ms. Wendy Woodward; Ms. Lachelle Smith; Ms. Tracey Robbins; Dr. Brooke Kruemmling; Dr. Kathleen Huebner.

Shown (L to R) are: front row, Dr. Tony Di Stefano; Ms. Tina Fitzpatrick; Mrs. Mary Huebner. Back row: Dr. Audrey Smith; Ms. Wendy Woodward; Ms. Lachelle Smith; Ms. Tracey Robbins; Dr. Brooke Kruemmling; Dr. Kathleen Huebner.

Dr. Huebner sums it up very nicely. “Audrey Smith is the College of Education and Rehabilitation. She is CER’s founder and its nurturing mother. She leaves CER offering more programs of study, degrees and certifications, a bigger and stronger CER. The College of Education and Rehabilitation will not be the same without her, but then Audrey would not want it to stay the same – she would want it to continue to grow and prosper. Audrey is an internationally recognized advocate, teacher, professor, author and administrator. She is a dynamic and energetic teacher and presenter. But most importantly to me, she is a loyal friend.”

The Salus community thanks you, Dr. Audrey Smith, for your service, dedication, commitment to your students, faculty, clients, PCO, Salus and, most of all, for your friendship. We wish you the best and know that this well deserved sabbatical will be most successful!

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