BLVS Alumni Association Awards
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BLVS Alumni Association Awards

2017 BLVS Alumni Association AwardsA special Alumni and Friends Reception for the Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS) Department was held on July 6 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Hafter Student Center’s Bennett Lounge. As University and BLVS faculty, staff and friends enjoyed drinks, hors d’oeuvres and conversation, two notable individuals received awards from the University’s Alumni Association for their significant contributions to the BLVS field. Dr. Audrey Smith, CLVT, COMS, BLVS professor, received the 2017 Distinguished Service Award and Elizabeth A. O’Donnell, MS ’86, COMS, CLVT, TVI, earned the BLVS Alumna of the Year.

University president Dr. Michael H. Mittelman welcomed the crowd and introduced Jennifer Edgar, MS ’02, Alumni Association Board of Trustees member, who presented the awards. Edgar spoke about Dr. Smith’s continued commitment to her students’ success and in-depth, revolutionary knowledge in the BLVS field.

2017 BLVS Alumni Association AwardsWhile accepting her award, Dr. Smith paid thanks to her colleagues throughout her career at Salus with a strong emphasis on her students.

“I am the sum and substance of everybody I’ve worked with,” she said. “There have been so many people that I’ve had the blessing of having as colleagues. To my students, you’re the ones I’ve learned the most from and you’re the reason I’ve done everything that I’ve done in my career.”

Edgar then highlighted O’Donnell’s substantial contributions to Salus and the BLVS programs, including collaborating with Dr. Smith on a widely used textbook and serving as an adjunct professor in the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) program.

O’Donnell explained how she came to explore the BLVS field. She always knew she wanted to help others, but struggled to find an undergraduate major that suited her. After taking two BLVS courses, she knew she found her niche.

“I felt so fortunate at that moment in time because I knew I would love this profession,” she said. “At the end of my schooling, I had to do an internship and guess where I ended up – Philadelphia. I got to work with Audrey and a host of many interesting, loving, caring, and supportive colleagues.”

2017 BLVS Alumni Association AwardsShe emphasized the state-of-the-art low vision work they were developing. “I felt that I was the cream of the crop, and I learned so much,” she said. “It’s because of the people and what they’ve brought to (the field of BLVS) that made the difference for me. I was able to give back because of them.”

Dr. Smith has been a true visionary in the BLVS field since joining the University in the 1970s as a low vision and orientation and mobility specialist. Soon after, she began working in the William Feinbloom Vision Rehabilitation Center, currently housed at Salus University’s optometric clinical facility, The Eye Institute. In addition to writing much of the material utilized in her field over the course of her career, she also led the Department of Graduate Studies in Vision Impairment, and inspired the development of the Blindness and Low Vision Studies programs. Now housed within the University’s College of Education and Rehabilitation (CER), Dr. Smith served as dean of CER for eight years. Under her leadership, the College received more than $40 million in grant funding, an accomplishment she attributes to teamwork and working with her talented and passionate staff. Her successes in fundraising have included several national personnel preparation and research grants, and State Prevention of Blindness grants, which have served countless underserved communities in the Philadelphia area and provided many additional clinical experiences for the University’s students.

Dr. Smith is internationally recognized for her publications and professional presentations/workshops on blindness and low vision. Her leadership has contributed to several additional international and state training programs across the country. At Salus, she has won numerous Teacher of the Year Awards honoring her self-described “most important role.”

O’Donnell has also made significant contributions to the field of blindness and low vision through her decades-long career. In 1986, she was hired as the coordinator of the University’s O&M program for fieldwork and internships, while working as a Low Vision Rehabilitation Specialist at the Feinbloom Vision Rehabilitation Center, among other roles. Years later, as the O&M specialist for the Delaware County Intermediate Unit, she collaborated with specialists at the Feinbloom Rehabilitation Center to bring necessary services to the children with whom she worked.

Currently serving as adjunct faculty for the Orientation and Mobility Techniques course, she also acts as a supervisor for interns in the program. She has published numerous articles in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness and presented extensively at regional, national and international conferences. She is widely known for her collaboration with Dr. Audrey Smith, with whom she published Beyond Arms’ Reach, a widely used textbook addressing the specific needs of individuals with low vision within the context of orientation and mobility.

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