The Visioning the Future award recipients are:
Top row (l to r): Ebony Thornton, Ijemdinma Ozodigwe, Khaliah Knighten, Lauren Price, and Lexxus Roberts. Bottom row (l to r): Lydia Smith, Maleiah Carroll, Nijewel Holliday, Shirmarie Starks, and Winter Beaton.

RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif.—In continuing a commitment to increasing awareness about the optometric profession to minority communities, the National Optometric Association (NOA), the Dr. Marvin R. Poston Foundation and VSP Global, announced the recipients of Visioning the Future mentorship program. Launched in 2019, Visioning the Future mentorship program is designed to identify African American/Black students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and foster their professional and career advancement in the field of optometry, according to the announcement.

Nearly $30,000 was awarded to 10 promising HBCU graduates who were recognized at a special virtual reception hosted by NOA. Additionally, as part of the mentorship program, students will receive assistance in the application process, valuable guidance in career planning, networking opportunities and access to a variety of educational resources. Once enrolled, the goals of the program will extend into their membership in the National Optometric Student Association for further assistance with college or university enrollment and graduation, the announcement noted.
This year’s program recipients are:

  • Ebony Thornton
  • Ijemdinma Ozodigwe
  • Khaliah Knighten
  • Lauren Price
  • Lexxus Roberts
  • Lydia Smith
  • Maleiah Carroll
  • New Holliday
  • Shirmarie Starks
  • Winter Beaton
The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) data reveals the number of enrolled African American/Black optometry students is around 3 percent, significantly lower than the number of other minorities in the U.S., the announcement noted.
“This partnership is critically important in addressing the need for more diversity and inclusion in our schools and colleges of optometry, especially among African American/Black students,” said Dr. Sherrol Reynolds, president of the NOA. “Over the years, there has been little to no growth in the number of Black students in optometry schools. This partnership allows for increased awareness of the profession, mentorship, guidance, and a path forward for these students to realize their dream of becoming an optometrist and giving back to their communities.”
“I have experienced first-hand the gratitude of these awardees as they start their journey into the profession of optometry. These future ODs already understand the positive impact their presence will have on the minority patients they will serve,” said Paula H. Boone, OD, director of the mentorship program at NOA.
Marlene Bell, daughter of the late Dr. Marvin R. Poston— an icon in the field of optometry, the first Black optometrist to practice west of the Rockies and a founding member of VSP, added, “My father was passionate about mentoring the younger generation and knew that success in optometry requires strong role models. He’d be thrilled to see this mentorship helping bridge the gap in diversity.”
Jarrett Johnson, OD, MPH, and VSP Global board member, said that “providing mentorship opportunities to underrepresented students is critical to creating a more diverse and inclusive generation of optometry.”
Johnson added, “We congratulate these deserving students and are honored to provide resources and support as they prepare to enter this truly great profession.”
To learn more about VSP’s commitment to diversity, visit the VSP site here.