The professor of biological and vision sciences is committed to evolving the way optometrists are educated.
If you’ve ever looked at your syllabus and saw Visual Perception: A Clinical Orientation or Geometrical and Visual Optics: A Clinical Introduction as your assigned text, you have Dr. Steven Schwartz to thank. The professor of biological and vision sciences at SUNY Optometry is often cited as one of the reasons students apply to the College. An OD and PhD, Dr. Schwartz is committed to making a difference in the way that optometrists are educated, and the seeds of that mission were planted when he was a student at University of California, Berkeley.
“When I went to optometry school at Berkeley, many of the vision science and optics courses were not as clinically relevant as they should have been. Part of the reason was the lack of textbooks written specifically for optometry students,” he explains. “I like to write and organize information. After graduating optometry school, practicing optometry, performing basic science research and teaching, I thought I could write these needed books.”
Turns out he was right. His textbooks are in their fifth and third editions, respectively, and they have become staples in optometry programs across the country. Dr. Schwartz has an inkling about why his books stand apart from others in the field. “I love explaining complex concepts using simple language. My training and experience as both an optometrist and scientist have been invaluable,” he says. “I write with the student learner in mind. My goal is to create user-friendly textbooks that are scientifically rigorous and clinically useful.”
It’s a goal that’s in line with Dr. Schwartz’s childhood aspirations. “I always knew I wanted to be a professional—a doctor, lawyer or professor,” he says. He decided on optometry as a college freshman. Meeting with various professionals in his hometown, Auburn, New York, put him in contact with Dr. Ed Simmons, an optometrist with a private practice. The young Schwartz never looked back. “When I practiced optometry, I enjoyed being able to solve most patient’s problems during their first visit to my office. It was a pleasant experience for both me and my patients. As an educator and academician, I’m fascinated by the neurophysiological processes that result in vision,” he explains.
Dr. Schwartz has been with the College since 1997, starting as an associate professor in the then-department of vision sciences and serving as vice president and dean for academic affairs for a decade. These days, he is director of institutional research and planning, in addition to teaching courses on optics, visual perception and personal financial planning. “I like to be helpful!” he says.
Each of the hats he wears at the College allows him to use various parts of his skill set, which he acquired via his masters in counseling in colleges and community agencies from New York University, his PhD in physiological optics from The University of Alabama at Birmingham, his certificate in family financial planning from Kansas State University, his clinical fellowship in rational-emotive and cognitive-behavioral therapy at Albert Ellis Institute and his work with the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Institute for Management and Leadership in Education.
But he’s clear on which is his favorite hat. “My true passion is teaching and writing and editing textbooks,” says Dr. Schwartz, who earned both the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the President’s Merit Award in Excellence. “I enjoy helping students learn material that can be difficult to understand yet rewarding to know and important for taking care of their patients.”
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