By Crystale Lopez
New to the University of the Incarnate Word and to the state of Texas, Dr. Andrew Buzzelli, dean of the UIW Rosenberg School of Optometry (RSO), was presented with the “Educator of the Year” award by the Texas Optometric Association at the organization’s 112th Annual Convention in Austin.
Before coming to UIW in June 2011, Buzzelli served as the director of advanced studies at Salus University in Pennsylvania. His university teaching responsibilities have included courses in the diagnosis and treatment of Acquired Brain Injury, Pediatric Optometry and Binocular Vision as well as Child Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence. He is one of 36 optometrists in the world recognized as a diplomat in Binocular Vision and Perception for the American Academy of Optometry.
“The ‘Educator of the Year’ award is one of the best and most fulfilling awards I have ever received because of what it means and the number of people in the RSO it was given to,” he said.
Buzzelli said the school needed to do an amazing amount of work in nine months to prepare for accreditation, so he and Dr. Denise Doyle, UIW’s chancellor, set out to distribute all of the work that needed to be done and to get the RSO where they wanted it to be.
“It was the ability to get the RSO faculty and staff to show off their talents and skills, so Dr. Doyle and I gave them the direction of what to do,” Buzzelli said. “We did very well in the accreditation process and the award came as recognition of all that our faculty and staff accomplished.”
Buzzelli said he and Doyle are very fortunate to be in a position to be working with a group of such incredible professionals.
“People working together has made the difference for our accreditation at RSO,” Doyle said. “We have the right people in place which has helped us get a stronger sense of direction. The students are benefitting from the faculty we have hired and new clinical opportunities we have created. We have kept our focus and it has paid off for the school.”
Doyle said so much of the work completed over the past year has been around communication and integration of the School of Optometry more strongly into the UIW experience.
“Communication is extremely important, so we try to communicate and make sure that everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction,” Buzzelli said. “It was also vital to realign the RSO with the UIW Mission because the Mission does not just address the university, it addresses every human being at the university and challenges them to greatness. It is about human dignity, social justice and personal growth.”
Buzzelli said there is a difference between making doctors and optometrists. “Most optometry schools make great optometrists and we have talented people in the RSO to make great optometrists, but creating a doctor is different. Creating a doctor is about that personal growth and commitment to human dignity.
“Our faculty understands that at UIW it is different and each student is mentored and challenged to be on their own personal journey,” he said. “UIW interns are mentored to understand that to take care of other people you have to have more than just optometry skills – personal growth and understanding human dignity to be a doctor cannot be taught. It has to be embraced; it has to be your whole life and the person you are charged with taking care of has to be your whole life.”
The RSO also prides itself on being the most diverse in the U.S. National Optometric Student Association. “Even though we are a Catholic university, we are the most diverse, have the most creeds, and are 63 percent female,” Buzzelli said. “UIW offers the perfect arena for growth no matter what your faith is.”
Other changes implemented in the School of Optometry over the last year have included faculty governance, putting the faculty in charge of the curriculum and defining everyone’s responsibility and accountability to the main campus.
“The faculty is the engine that drives everything in this school so you have to give them the tools in order to be alone with faculty governance,” Buzzelli said. “We also wanted to clarify that the RSO is not a second UIW campus, we are part of the main campus and exist as a part of the UIW community.”
As goals are met, future goals are created. The UIW Rosenberg School of Optometry looks forward to graduating its first class, hiring more staff, continuing to guide and mentor faculty and students, and opening additional clinics around the city.
“When I first came to UIW I recognized that in the Mission statement there was leeway in what I could do and implement in the curriculum that I could not do anywhere else,” Buzzelli said. “UIW gave me the opportunity so I came here and those changes have been made. The RSO is an incredibly unique optometry school in the midst of a very unique university.”