(Clockwise from top left) Belinda Starkey, OD; Susan Cotter, OD; Deborah Zelinsky, OD; Karla Zadnik, OD; Breanne McGhee, OD; and Thuy Tran, OD.

NEW YORK—Six women were named recipients of the 2020 Theia Awards of Excellence last night, Thursday Oct. 15. The award ceremony was held virtually as the conclusion to the three-day Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by Women In Optometry with the American Academy of Optometry Academy at Home program. The awards were presented with a special collaboration of past winners returning to honor the new recipients as they accepted their awards in this fifth annual award ceremony. Women were recognized for their outstanding contributions to the profession in the categories of leadership, mentoring, education, innovation and as a young OD. These are the 2020 honorees:


The recipients were Thuy Tran, OD, of New York, New York, and Belinda Starkey, OD, of Rogers, Arkansas.

Dr. Tran is president of the Optometric Society of the City of New York (OSCNY). During the COVID-19 pandemic, even as she was furloughed, she managed to expand the organization’s membership and programming and supported members. In the height of the pandemic, she used her own funds to source PPE and distribute it to first responders.

Dr. Starkey, of Rogers, Arkansas, was the leader in the passage of Act 579, Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, the latest scope expansion bill to pass a state legislature, which passed by 70 percent. Dr. Starkey continues to lead the battle to preserve this law as the opposition has continued to attack it. “I consider optometry to be a family: we may not always agree on every detail but we lock arms—and it’s very important that we have a unified voice any time that opposition or adversity comes knocking.”


2020 recipient Karla Zadnik, OD, PhD, FAAO, the dean of The Ohio State University College of Optometry, has published more than 500 papers, presentations and abstracts in the profession, including the CLEERE study, one of the first to explore myopia. Dr. Zadnik is a passionate supporter of aspiring students, students, young ODs and colleagues, and she will drop anything to make time to support those who need it, said a nominator. “[Mentoring] has always been my favorite part of my job, which is figuring out how to help others get to their future and promote the future of optometry,” Dr. Zadnik said.



Deborah Zelinsky, OD, FNORA, FCOVD, the founder and executive research director of the Mind-Eye Institute in Northbrook, Illinois, is recognized worldwide for her studies of retinal stimulation and her innovative work in evaluating and addressing retinal processing disorders. The mission of the Mind-Eye Institute is to build better brains by evaluating and addressing patients' peripheral visual processing, which comprises an overwhelming percentage of a person's visual awareness.

Dr. Zelinsky is also the inventor of the Z-Bell Test, which enables health professionals to evaluate a patient's retinal processing by having the patient touch a small ringing bell with their eyes closed. She says her own work and those of her mentors were inspired by unanswered questions.


Susan Cotter, OD, MS, FAAO, of Southern California College of Optometry at Marshall B Ketchum University, has dedicated her entire career to optometric education and research. She has been a teacher and a mentor to many optometrists for nearly four decades, and her primary research interests are related to clinical management strategies for strabismus, amblyopia, convergence insufficiency and childhood refractive error. Dr. Cotter quotes Maya Angelou: “'When you learn, teach; and when you get, give,’ and that rings true to me and sums up why I do what I do—teach.”

Young OD

This year's award goes to Breanne McGhee, OD, MEd, FAAO, of New Orleans, Louisiana, and a 2016 graduate of Pacific University College of Optometry. Now pursuing a doctorate, Dr. McGhee’s research interests are diversity and inclusion and the impact of educational inequities and inequalities in Black and Latino communities. Dr. McGhee is an assistant professor and clinical adjunct at her alma mater, making her the first African American educator at the optometry school.

She dedicated the award to her four children. “To some having children during optometry school and residency seemed like a lot. Thank you for being my daily motivation, for pushing me to never give up and be my best self.”

Last night's video ceremony presentation can be viewed here.

The Women's Leadership Conference offered a range of speakers and presentations, as VMAIL recently reported.