Student pairs academic resources with real-world experiences for future as optometrist 

Student pairs academic resources with real-world experiences for future as optometrist 

Chosen as one of approximately 30 students nationwide for summer optometry experience in Berkeley 

By Jessica Roth, WSU Tri-Cities

Catalina Yepez

Catalina Yepez

RICHLAND, Wash. – As a result of resources and mentorship she received at Washington State University Tri-Cities, student Catalina Yepez not only began the initial steps of realizing her future dream of becoming an eye doctor. The opportunities also led her to be selected for an opportunity open to only 30 students nationwide.

Yepez was selected as one of 30 students across the country to participate in a weeklong workshop that prepares students for medical school and careers in optometry at the University of California, Berkeley, this summer. The opportunity is one that was recommended to her by a WSU Tri-Cities professor.

She is now using the support of both her professors and her academic advisor to propel her opportunities as a future optometrist.

Identifying career dreams

Prior to beginning college, Yepez said she didn’t know what she wanted to pursue as a professional career. While going to school at Columbia Basin College, Yepez earned a receptionist job at a local vision clinic to help finance

Scan of Yepez's eye

During her optometry experience in Berkeley, Yepez got get a close look of her eye as part of an introductory eye exam.

her education. As she worked her way up, from clerical duties to conduction pre-testing for patients, she became fascinated by the whole field of optometry and found that she enjoyed working in the clinic.

While conducting an eye exam for a young boy who was fearful of the whole experience, but then became elated when receiving his first pair of glasses, Yepez’s eyes were opened about the opportunities in optometry.

“He exclaimed ‘I can see! I can see!” she said of the young boy’s reaction upon receiving his new glasses. “It was rewarding knowing that something so small and simple can change a person’s attitude and expression for the better. That is when I realized that optometry is what I wanted to do.”

Propelling dreams into actions

Shortly after that experience, Yepez began restructuring her academic plan to meet the pre-med requirements for optometry. She decided to transfer to WSU Tri-Cities her junior year to complete her undergraduate degree and to take advantage of the opportunities and resources available through the four-year university. An academic advisor, she said, was incredibly helpful with that process.

“I spoke to Mariella (Lora) with advising, she helped me out so much with my decision to transfer to WSU Tri-Cities,” she said. “It’s amazing how far you can go with the right support.”

Last spring, Elly Sweet, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of biology, encouraged Yepez to apply to internships to help her prepare for her future in optometry. This prompted her to look into prospective schools that she’d be interested in attending, and through her search she found a workshop offered at University of California, Berkeley.

Yepez and friends in an eye exam room

Yepez and friends in an eye exam room

The workshop allows students to experience what life was like as a medical student in the school’s optometry program. The program also provides students with valuable information about the admissions requirements and standards for medical school.

Yepez gained a recommendation from Nelmi Devarie Baez, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of chemistry, to include with her application for the program. She said she had Devarie Baez as an instructor for her organic chemistry class, which was one of her hardest courses. But through his mentorship, she gained an understanding for the material that would be vital to her future as an optometrist. With his recommendation and to her surprise, Yepez was selected of one of 38 students from around the United States for the experience.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” she said of her admittance into the program.

Through the program, Yepez spent one week in California with her cohort learning about strategies for a good score on the Optometry Admission Test, which is required for admittance into any optometry program, in addition to learning about how to prepare for an interview in the medical school application process and opportunities for real-world experiences in optometry after graduation. She also got to tour the university’s facilities and get a feel for the types of things they would be doing as medical optometry students.

“It was exciting,” she said. “We played with all of their equipment and learned how to perform a basic eye exam on each other. We learned more about the eye and vision and we got to experience a little bit of what it’s like to be a student there.”

Planning future career success

Yepez said if it wasn’t for the help and support of the faculty and staff at WSU Tri-Cities, she might not have realized her potential as a future optometrist and wouldn’t have gained admission into the Berkeley workshop.

“Everybody here at WSU Tri-Cities is trying to help you succeed,” she said. “There are a lot of resources here if you use them, and they help you out a lot. I am very happy I came here.”

Following her graduation this spring, Yepez said she plans to spend a gap year job shadowing local optometrists in the field and volunteering at a local cancer center before applying to optometry programs. She said she one-day hopes to work in a medical firm in the Tri-Cities region and might consider opening her own practice.

“WSU Tri-Cities has made me realize that optometry is a competitive field and I need to be a competitive applicant,” she said. “There are ways for me to prepare and resources here I can use. I’ve definitely gotten help every time I’ve asked for it.”