The Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation has pledged $50 million to UC Berkeley Optometry as part of a 10-year, $100 million investment that will expand the school’s ability to train the next generation of optometric physicians and keep the school at the forefront of research and discovery in eyecare. Photo courtesy of Paul Barnett photo
BERKELEY, Calif.—The University of California, Berkeley announced that the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation has pledged a historic $50 million to the UC Berkeley School of Optometry, the largest gift ever to be received by a school of optometry in the country. This transformational commitment constitutes the lead gift for a 10-year, $100 million investment that will expand the school’s ability to train the next generation of optometric physicians and educators to serve as leaders in the spectrum of primary and preventative health care.

The funds will be used to elevate the school’s training and research programs through an investment in innovative models of vision care, teaching and discovery. To honor the landmark gift, the school will be named the Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry and Vision Science.

“We believe this gift, through the vision and foresight of Dr. Wertheim, will not only transform Berkeley Optometry, but will be transformative for the entire profession,” said John Flanagan, dean of Berkeley Optometry. “The gift will not only strengthen the professional and research training capabilities of the school and its programs but will enable new models of continuing professional education that will influence and elevate the profession of optometry.”

The gift will support new clinical and educational facilities, the expansion of the school’s clinical network and residency training, a focus on new initiatives for children’s vision, the creation of endowed support for both professional and research graduate students and a new Vision Science Institute to help unite vision research at UC Berkeley. These initiatives will be supported by the creation of two new, endowed, Chancellor’s Chairs; the Herbert Wertheim Chair in Neuro-Optometry and the Nicole Wertheim Chair in Pediatric Optometry.

Wertheim is known for his work as an optometrist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and inventor. He is founder and CEO of Brain Power Incorporated (BPI), which manufactures ophthalmic instruments and chemicals, and was the first to discover and manufacture a variety of sun filtering, UV-blocking and therapeutic eyeglass tints that can help improve vision performance, prevent cataracts, and reduce retinal and corneal deterioration.

“Optometry is America’s first line of defense for the prevention of blindness. I’m excited about what we’re going to do at Berkeley over these next years, because it’s going to transform patient expectations of vision care and service to help prevent those that would have become blind without care and help protect those from accidental eye injuries worldwide,” Wertheim said.

“We hope to expand the practice of optometry so that we’re able to provide timely and expanded patient care and outcomes to America’s communities and to the worldwide population.”

In addition to founding a new endowed Nicole Wertheim Chancellor’s Chair in Pediatric Optometry, the gift includes funds to create a new integrated model clinic for children’s vision, as well as to help establish Berkeley Vision CURE, a national and international initiative that will work to get eyeglasses to all children who need them.

The Wertheims’ emphasis on children’s eye health and vision care will ensure new standards of care for pediatric optometry and pave the way for an integrated approach to enhancing children’s vision health for education and daily life, Flanagan said. The Berkeley vision clinic already serves approximately 80,000 patient visits each year from both the campus and the community, and the gift will support the school’s mission to expand access to quality eyecare through the establishment of a network of collaborative clinics and children’s hospitals, according to a statement by the University.

The Wertheims founded the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation in 1977 with the motto “making life on earth better,” and became members of the Giving Pledge in 2015, joining some of the world’s leading philanthropists in committing to give away at least half of their wealth. Wertheim is a graduate of the University of Florida and Southern College of Optometry and has been awarded honoree M.D., D.Sc. and Doctor of Technology degrees representing 55 years of vision research and more than 100 patents and trademarks. He has written that he wishes to give the bulk of his philanthropy to public education.

“This donation is to also celebrate our eyecare and science company Brain Power Inc (BPI) that Nicole and I founded 50 years ago, and to show appreciation for, and honor the dedication of our worldwide employee teammates, scientists and our tens of thousands of dedicated customers, and associates who have made Brain Power Inc. (BPI) successful,” Wertheim said.

The Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry and Vision Science will join a family of other institutions named in honor Dr. Wertheim’s lifetime achievements and philanthropy, including the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University; the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering at the University of Florida; the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences; and the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego.

Click here to read a profile of Dr. Wertheim in 20/20 Magazine's "Artist of the Lens" series.