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GETTING TO KNOW ICO'S NEW CHAIR OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Following in his father’s footsteps at ICO, Dwight Akerman, OD ’80, reflects on how the school has shaped his career, the institution’s mission, and its greatest strengths and challenges as North America’s oldest college of optometry moves forward into its 150th anniversary. Dr. Akerman is the Chief Medical Editor at the Review of Myopia Management and recently retired from his role as Vice President and Global Head of Professional Affairs & Business Development at Alcon.
How did you choose to study at ICO?
That was a straightforward decision for me because my father was a graduate of the Illinois College of Optometry – actually, he was a graduate of Monroe College of Optometry, a predecessor to ICO. I was around optometry since I was a child and understood what it was to be an optometrist and how you could help people and change their lives. I saw how delighted and enthusiastic my father was to go to work every day. That’s hard to do when you’re seeing patients for fifty years, but he loved optometry.
How has being an ICO alum shaped your career?
The mission of ICO is to develop highly-qualified clinical optometrists through excellence in optometric education. ICO has a national reputation for having the finest clinical training. I believed that when I entered ICO in 1976, and I believe that today. It was that training that shaped my interest in addressing unmet patient needs. Although most of my career was spent in the ophthalmic industry, I feel that my training at ICO helped shape my contributions to the development of new medical devices and new pharmaceutical agents that address unmet patient needs.
What factored into your decision to join the Board of ICO?
I lived and worked in Chicago for many years and had a close relationship with ICO. Wesley-Jessen, where I worked for ten years, was an externship site for ICO, so I supervised fourth-year students who rotated through our primary care clinic. I was also frequently invited to provide guest lectures and had excellent relationships with the administration and faculty members.
During my time at Wesley-Jessen, I learned about the Board of Trustees and their responsibilities for governance and oversight. I said to myself, ‘Someday, I want to give back.’ That opportunity finally came for me – to give back my time, my knowledge, and my expertise to the betterment of ICO. It has been a wonderful experience.
As ICO prepares to mark its 150th anniversary, what is your vision as we approach this milestone? What are your hopes for your own role in this moment?
Celebrating 150 years is momentous. I feel so blessed to be Chairman of the Board during this time. I reflect upon where ICO has been and where ICO is going. Many challenges are facing ICO as we move forward regarding student enrollment. The pool of undergraduate applicants is diminishing, which is a concerning development, and more optometry schools are on the horizon with greater competition for students.
As we enter 2022, I want to lead and stimulate innovation at ICO. Innovation will be one of the cornerstones of my chairmanship, especially in recruiting highly-qualified undergraduate students. We need to continue to innovate to ensure we have the pick of the very best students.
What are the unique opportunities you see for today’s practitioners?
When I graduated in 1980, virtually every graduate went into a traditional private practice. Today is very different. There are so many opportunities for the graduates of ICO. While traditional private practice is still a viable option, many modes of practice now seek ICO graduates. More ophthalmology clinics recognize the value of having optometry provide primary eyecare. And the ophthalmic industry, the career route I took, is hiring more optometrists than ever before in professional and medical affairs to marketing to medical safety to R&D – the opportunities abound.
If you had a direct call to action to ICO alumni in this 150th year, what would it be?
The alumni base of ICO must now, more than ever, step up and support ICO. It is challenging to ensure we are attracting, enrolling, and keeping the very best students. Whatever successful situation our alumni are in, they wouldn’t be there without the training they received at ICO. I really want to motivate alumni to give back to thank ICO.
I would also encourage alumni to mentor and influence students who they may know. Alumni are very influential in recruiting and attracting students. Do everything you can to educate, and motivate students into the profession of optometry and to attend ICO.
Any final thoughts?
ICO is going to continue to excel and provide the finest clinical optometric education in North America. In my role as Chairman of the Board, I hope to provide stewardship, governance, oversight, and help motivate us to continue to innovate and bring ICO to the very next level.
"I said to myself, ‘Someday, I want to give back.’ That opportunity finally came for me – to give back my time, my knowledge, and my expertise to the betterment of ICO."
Dwight Akerman, OD '80
Board of Trustees
Dwight H. Akerman, OD ’80, MBA, FAAO – Chairman
Vasvi A. Babu, OD ’93
Rev. Torrey L. Barrett
Joseph L. Derezinski, MS
Kevin A. Danahey, OD ’91
Karen A. Eng, OD
Robert L. Fait, OD ’68 – Secretary
Dwain L. Hahs – Treasurer
Philip J. Hasler, OD ’86
Scott A. Jens, OD ’91, FAAO
Jeffrey D. Johnson, OD ’97, MBA
Osvaldo I. Lopez, MD
C. Michael LoPiano, MBA
Tracy L. Matchinski, OD ’95, FAAO
Nana Owusu, OD ’08
Jeff Smith, OD ’83, MBA – Immediate Past Chair
Timothy H. Tsang, OD ’06, FAAO
Rachel Shackelford '23
James R. Butler, OD ’59
Donovan L. Crouch, OD ’63, FAAO