Opticians' Best in Class for 2013: For Good Measure

The earnest attitude shared by the students selected for 2013’s Best in Class ensures a bright future both for the eight graduates selected and for the practices and dispensaries they will join. Whether inspired by a teacher, a family member or a childhood spent in glasses, these upcoming opticians and optical technicians are armed with knowledge and expertise, ready to give back to their professions and communities.

Emerging from optical dispensing and technician programs throughout the country, the following graduates were nominated by their schools because of their academic integrity, leadership abilities and exceptional optical skills, and were chosen, for their distinctive dedication and unparalleled passion for their respective programs and aspirations.

Vision Monday commends all of this year’s opticianry graduates, and proudly presents this special section, underwritten by an unrestricted grant from Essilor USA, to highlight the Best in Class of 2013. ■

– Catherine Wolinski, Assistant Editor

Erie Community College
Orchard Park, N.Y.


When a position opened up at the local Wal-Mart Vision Center, Ben Cohen decided to try his hand at optical dispensing. “My manager there taught me a lot, and really got me excited and passionate about the field,” he said.

Cohen not only achieved his degree, but became an active member of his class and participated in various competitions and professional groups. “Erie Community College took my passion and multiplied it by 10,” Cohen said. “[It] really helped me become as involved as I am today.”

His involvement spans the New York State Society of Opticians, winning the National Federation of Opticianry Schools’ College Bowl, and being a national winner of Transitions Optical’s “Students of Vision Video Showcase.”

Currently working at LensCrafters, Ben plans to earn another degree in communications, and has his sights set on graduate school, where he plans to study consulting.

HIS SCHOOL SAYS… “Ben is highly motivated and gifted in helping others work together.”

Roane State Community College
Harriman, Tenn.

Balancing studies, volunteer work and motherhood didn’t stop Sara Donnan—Student Optician of the Year, a winner of Transitions Optical’s video contest and two-time Hoya scholarship recipient—from being selected as this year’s Best in Class. The school’s only opticianry graduate with a perfect grade point average, Donnan remains modest about her achievements.

“At the beginning, I couldn’t even say ‘opticianry,’” she admitted. “When I met my instructor, Mike Goggin, he gave me a tour and I fell in love with the field. I knew this was the profession I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Her future goals include working for Hoya or Transitions and becoming a “huge part” of the Opticians Association of America, but for now, she said, “anything is fine, as long as it’s in the opticianry field.”

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Sara is an ideal student and an incredible human being. She is hard working, motivated and has a true desire to contribute to the future of our profession.”

J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Opticianry Program
Richmond, Va.

Megan Heiser admits she “stumbled into the optician program as an accident, really. But I have been blown away by the opportunities to serve and learn since I began the program.” Heiser has served as the student representative on the Virginia State Board of Opticians, attended the ABO/NCLE Conference in Washington D.C., attended the OAA Leadership Conference in Orlando, and attended Vision Expo East in New York.

She also traveled to Jamaica with the iCare Project in 2012. Most recently, she won a scholarship from Contact Lens Society of America. Added Heiser, “I am fortunate to have so many mentors and supporters, people who are truly invested in helping me become a great optician. I have an extremely supportive husband of 20 years and three great kids who encourage me every day. My instructors at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College were absolutely outstanding. This career change has been more than anything I could have imagined.”

Heiser has taken the written ABO and NCLE exams since graduating last month and is taking the Virginia licensing practical. She’s still researching options for the future. She loves working part-time at an independent optical shop, but she’s also considering frame sales and perhaps owning her own independent dispensary down the road.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Megan has shown diligence and tenacity in her studies, graduating magna cum laude, while being actively involved with her family. She has organized and participated in study groups and has been a resource to others.”

New York City College of Technology
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Steven Indelicato, a native New Yorker, earned his Bachelor’s degree in business from Villanova University. Steven’s dad, Vincent, is an optician and has owned an independent optical store in Brooklyn, New York for over 35 years. After graduating Villanova with a business degree, Steven decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and pursue a career in opticianry in order to utilize his business knowledge and combine it with his new profession. A self-starter with enormous amounts of initiative, Steven aspires to use technology as a platform of optical innovation.”

HIS SCHOOL SAYS… “We have always been impressed with Steven’s desire to learn and his commitment to his education. He thrives in a team setting with an entrepreneurial spirit. Whatever Steven undertakes, he does so with enthusiasm and high motivation. We cannot think of any student more deserving of this fine honor.”

Baker College of Opticianry
Allen Park, Mich.

Karen Maki was working in a Wal-Mart pharmacy department when her boss sensed something was wrong—“Why don’t you get an eye exam?”—and sent her to the optical department. Apparently, she had cataracts—and an epiphany: “What a gift to give people the gift of sight!”

While attending Baker, Maki maintained perfect attendance and grades while working 60 hours a week at two part-time optical jobs. She also served as a student board member of the Opticians Association of Michigan. She has passed their certification exam, will be a full board member, and is in charge of membership. “I told fellow students to start their careers now by joining professional organizations. It’s where you meet the thinkers and professional development people,” she noted.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Karen works two part-time optical jobs, one in retail and one in a private practice. She did this while going to school—a 45-mile drive each way. She was also our student representative to the Opticians Association of Michigan.”

Hillsborough Community College
Tampa, Fla.

After moving to the U.S. from Vietnam, Diep Nguyen was restarting her college career when she unexpectedly discovered HCC’s opticianry program. Inspired by interest in the medical and vision fields and the lack of eyecare in Vietnam, she knew it was the right path.

“When I first started, I knew I would love it,” Nguyen said. “In my country, many people lose their vision because they can’t afford care. In the U.S., vision is a very big field, and we have everything.”

Nguyen completed the two year program in a year and a half and is graduating with Dean’s List recognition, along with many other accomplishments. She is currently interning at I-Care Optical, where she hopes to be hired after receiving her license. Her goal is to educate patients on how to achieve the best vision possible.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Diep has demonstrated exceptional academic and clinical skills in all courses. I believe she is a shining example of the next generation of opticians.”

Indiana University School of Optometry Optician/Technician Program
Bloomington, Ind.

While exploring career options, memories of her childhood spent wearing eyeglasses prompted Brittany Starkey to approach a local optometry business in her hometown.

“One day of shadowing was all it took for me to realize that this was the career choice for me,” Starkey said. “I knew that I could not wait to someday hand a child their first pair of glasses.”

Starkey pursued the optical field at Indiana University, where she earned her degree with High Distinction and an Optician’s Laboratory Concentration Certificate, and was voted Optician of the Year by faculty, staff and fellow students. She is now a full time optician/technician at Expert Eyecare.

HER SCHOOL SAYS… “Brittany Starkey has been a positive role model for the entire class. She will be an asset to the profession as she grows in her career.”

Raritan Valley Community College
Branchburg, N.J.

Evan Torado came into the opticianry field “by chance,” adding, “I left a research position after college without having a replacement job and ended up working in retail. After the holiday season ended there weren’t enough hours to fulfill my needs. I ended up walking into an optical and started working the next day! I had the extreme luck to work with a talented intelligent group of people who were willing to answer all the questions I came up with, and eventually the doctor taught me how to read Rx’s, cut lenses and do adjustments. After several years of learning a tremendous amount from that staff, the store became corporate and I left to work with another franchise. After years of people telling me I should either attend the opticianry program or an optometry program, I decided they were right.”

Torado started at Raritan Valley with the hope that if things went well, he’d continue on to optometry school. Torado was selected for the Transitions Students of Vision Scholarship and the Norman Snedeker Scholarship through the New Jersey State Opticians Board. After the first semester at RVCC, he started working at a private OD practice, and was still able to finish the program at RVCC in two years and graduated as part of the Phi Theta Kappa National Honors Society and magna cum laude. Torado has been accepted and will be attend the New England College of Optometry in the fall.

HIS SCHOOL SAYS… “Evan was a truly remarkable student, perhaps the most intelligent and engaged student that I have ever taught.”