Commencement 2024: Post-bacc Program a Foundation for Success
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Commencement 2024: Post-bacc Program a Foundation for Success

It’s a long way from the post-bacc to the Pentagon, but for Sabrina Syed ‘24OD, PBHS ‘20, it’s been an amazing ride.

Syed, along with Karolina Pasierb ‘24OD, PBHS ‘20, are the first two students in the inaugural Post-baccalaureate in Health Sciences (PBHS) program to continue on through the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University to graduate. They will join their classmates at the 128th Salus commencement May 23 at the Kimmel Cultural Center in Philadelphia. The two met in that first post-bacc class and became fast friends. 

Karolina and Sabrina in white coats“At first in the post-bacc class, we went around the room to see what everybody was interested in. I remember walking up to Sabrina and asking her a few questions about what she was planning on doing in terms of her application,” said Pasierb. Originally from Butler, New Jersey, she graduated with a degree in biology in 2018 from Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. The two then started hanging out and were glad to have each other at the start of COVID when programs went virtual.

Syed believes the post-bacc program changed everything for her and made her pathway to securing her Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree much easier. 

“I felt I was well prepared when I entered the optometry program because I already was familiar with the campus, knew some of the professors, and already had a friend going into the program, so it worked out really well,” she said. 

After graduating with a degree in biology from Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York, Syed really wanted to go to optometry school. Spending a couple of years working in an optometrist’s office solidified that desire. And, opportunity came knocking when Salus sent her an email in 2019 about the University’s then-newly launched PBHS program.

The program is designed for students who have already completed an undergraduate degree or are working toward a secondary degree from an accredited institution. It offers students a chance to take required prerequisite courses, boost their grade point average, strengthen their scientific background and help them become better prepared for admissions to a professional, post-graduate or medical school. Completion of the post-bacc degree also guarantees the student an interview in the Salus program of choice. 

Karolina Pasierb in labPasierb already knew she wanted to pursue a career in optometry. During her time at Rowan she started working at an optometry practice and learned from PCO alums Wayne Goldschneider, OD ‘85, and Dale Stein, OD ‘82.

But she got wait-listed by PCO when she first applied. That’s when she received an email about the post-bacc program at Salus and thought it might be a viable option to make her application more desirable. 

“The post-bacc program helped give me an idea how graduate school would be,” said Pasierb. “It definitely helped me get to know both the professors and the challenging workload.”

Although the first cohort of PBHS got thrown a curveball right away — starting and then having to finish the one-year program virtually because of the pandemic in 2020 —  Syed and Pasierb both found a running start into another Salus program was a tremendous advantage. “I already knew about PCO and the optometry program,” said Syed, who while in the PBHS program was paired with Stephanie Leburg, OD ‘16, Resident ’17, as a mentor. 

“Dr. Leburg actually edited my personal essay to apply for the optometry school program. Then I ended up having her a few years later as an attending and a preceptor. It was just full circle as she was integral in helping me when I was in the post-bacc program.”

In addition to early exposure to clinical training, PCO/Salus offers tremendous externship rotations, which is how Syed ended up with a rotation at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. While there, she was under the tutelage of Denise Gee, OD ‘12, who works at the DiLorenzo Pentagon Health Clinic. 

Sabrina Syed on Salus campus“It was a challenging rotation, but I had the opportunity to perform eye exams on active duty military personnel, including colonels and generals. It was an honor to serve those who are volunteering their time for us and our country, which was an exciting experience,” said Syed. “Dr. Gee is phenomenal and it was the most amazing rotation Ive ever had in my life.”

And, now both students are excited to get to the end of their educational journeys and walk across the stage to receive their diplomas at commencement. 

“It probably won’t really hit me until later when I’m in a job settled and working,” said Pasierb. “I feel like I’ve been in school for so long, it’s a bit surreal. But I’m glad that it’s finally here and I’ve accomplished something. It doesn’t feel real at the moment, but I’m excited for what’s to come.”

Syed thinks she might get emotional during the ceremony and predicts the same for her parents. But she’s ready to go out into the real world and start helping patients. 

“When I was working in the optometrist’s office, I had a little thought that I could do this,” said Syed, who has multiple job offers she’s currently considering. “And, now the fact that it’s so close, I feel pretty comfortable in knowing that I can.”

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