October 21, 2020

October 9, 2020

Alumna of the year 2020 DCW_3248 (2)

Dr. Denise M. Whittam, ’91, Advocates for Connecting Children to Critical Vision Services and Creating Opportunities for the Next Generation of Optometrists

New York, NY — The Optometric Center of New York, the affiliated foundation of the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry, will name Denise M. Whittam, OD, a 1991 graduate of SUNY Optometry, the “Alumna of the Year” at the Virtual Eyes on New York Awards Celebration. The event originally planned for March will now be hosted virtually on Thursday, November 5, 2020.

“I cannot think of a more dedicated alumna for this year’s award. Dr. Whittam is a wonderful advocate both for our students and the optometry profession and has been for almost three decades,” said Dawn Rigney, executive director for the Optometric Center of New York and vice president of institutional advancement for the College. “From leading the Alumni Association and mentoring students to dedicating her career to help children overcome impaired vision, Dr. Whittam embodies the compassion, commitment, and leadership we strive to instill in our graduates.”

“To be honored and recognized by one’s own colleagues and friends is by far the highest achievement one can attain,” Dr. Denise M. Whittam said. “I never realized that my experience at SUNY College of Optometry and pursuing the optometric profession would lead to meeting such incredibly bright, inspirational people, who not only became my friends, but also my family. I would be lost without their support and friendship. I am eternally grateful to the faculty of SUNY for passionately sharing their knowledge and clinical skills with me, not only during my four years at SUNY but ongoing to this day. They have become my mentors, my confidantes, and my friends, who feel like brothers and sisters to me for the rest of my life.”

After overcoming significant anxiety around her vision impairments as a child, Dr. Whittam pursued a career as an optometrist, graduating from SUNY Optometry in 1991. She recently received an award celebrating her 40 years of work with Cohen’s Fashion Optical. While in high school, Dr. Whittam worked as a part-time employee at a Cohen’s branch in Manhattan, and today is their lead practitioner. Unsatisfied with only dispensing glasses, Dr. Whittam was determined to help other young children overcome their anxieties and challenges with vision impairment.

During her 26 years as a volunteer with the Alumni Association Board, she remained a regular presence on the SUNY Optometry campus, helping to support the College’s fundraising efforts and sharing her enthusiasm for the profession with future classes. Dr. Whittam has served as the President of the New York State Optometric Association, Optometric Society of the City of New York, the Children’s Vision Coalition, and SUNY College of Optometry Alumni Association Board. In 2014, she was named Optometrist of the Year by the New York State Optometric Association.

Proceeds from this year’s Eyes on New York Awards Celebration will support optometry student scholarships and vision care for patients at SUNY Optometry and the University Eye Center. The event will be held virtually to ensure the safety of our guests during the public health crisis. Tickets are free but pre-registration is required. VIP and sponsorship opportunities are available. Additional information and registration are available at

Organization Contact: Dawn Rigney,, 212-938-5600


About the Optometric Center of New York

Founded in 1956, the Optometric Center of New York (OCNY) currently serves as the college-related, tax-exempt foundation for SUNY College of Optometry and its affiliated patient care clinic, the University Eye Center. OCNY stands as an example of what partnership among visionary community leaders, educators, and businesses can accomplish. Since its inception, the OCNY has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to supporting vision care for underserved populations; educating the next generation of optometrists, including providing merit and need-based scholarships to students; and advancing research into the complex human visual system. For more information, please visit