Extra Credit: Students Start Networking Now

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Getting through optometry school is no small task, but those years can deliver more than just a degree, says Sandy Trybus, who is studying at the Southern College of Optometry (SCO). It can be a time to make contacts with more experienced ODs who can show you the ropes. Those contacts are especially important for young women coming through optometry school, says Trybus, a member of the class of 2017.

So Trybus and a classmate, Michelle Moscow, came up with a way to help make those connections happen. They launched a service organization for female students at SCO called Gamma Omicron.

The group has about 50 members. Its biggest networking event is its Speed Leading session, which lets students sit for a few minutes at a time with more experienced female ODs. This year’s event, held in September, was the group’s second. each of six ODs sat at a table with six students. every eight minutes, the students moved to a different table.

“Everybody loved it,” says Trybus, who is the organization’s current president. “It’s kind of nice to just ask them personal questions in that group setting. It’s harder to do that in a crowd.”

The group is a revival of sorts of a previous campus organization. The Gamma Omicron name comes from a group started at the school in the mid-1970s, by Martha Rosemore Morrow, OD, a 1974 SCO graduate. Back then there were just a handful of women enrolled at SCO. The G.O. initials of the group were informally meant to stand for girls only. Those days are gone: the 2019 class that enrolled this year is 71 percent female, the school’s highest percentage ever.

But while the number of women entering the profession is up, the share of women at the highest levels hasn’t yet caught up. “We’re no longer the minority” of enrolled students, says Moscow. “But the purpose of the club is to get women into the leadership positions because, there, we are the minority.”

For the Speed Leading session, the students invited ODs from SCO’s Alumni Council and its Board of Trustees. They got a good response and students at the event were able to ask questions of women ODs with a broad range of experience.

Among the ODs participating was Sallye Scott, OD, who graduated from SCO in 1978 and began a private practice. She’s been active in state and national optometric groups. Whitney Hauser, OD, the group’s faculty adviser at SCO and a 2001 graduate of the school, also participated.

Another was Jarrett Johnson, OD, MPH, who graduated from SCO in 1990 and has been in private practice since 1994. She’s held several leadership roles with SCO, including two terms as the chairwoman of the school’s Board of Trustees. She’s also been active in public service efforts, including the New Orleans AIDS Task Force and the red Cross’s Hurricane Katrina Project. In September, she received the school’s 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Talking in small groups makes it easier for students, Moscow says. “We wanted people to not be intimidated by asking personal questions in front of a large group.” Besides asking about career choices, the students wanted to ask the ODs about balancing work and family “and how they did it,” she says. “It is kind of inspiring to hear how it is possible to achieve your career goals and have a family life.”

Plus, students get to make a contact they can reach out to in the future with other career questions, Moscow says. “They’re willing to talk to you about it. You just need to ask them.”

The group has been involved in other campus events. In April, it hosted Dori Carlson, OD, FAAO, the first woman president of the American Optometric Association. It’s also involved in serving the local community, and devotes most of its volunteer efforts to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis.

Kristin Anderson, OD, SCO’s vice president for institutional advancement, says reviving Gamma Omicron makes sense, given the demographic changes in the profession. “One of the things I found exciting about the approach they’ve taken is these students recognize that they have a professional obligation within the optometric community,” she says. “They want to develop themselves as active professionals and leaders.”