Faculty Interviews Posted on MBKU’s Peer Advisors’ Blog

New to MBKU this year are Peer Advisors, upperclassmen who volunteer to serve by helping incoming students get a leg up on adjusting to life at MBKU before Orientation even begins. Through our campus intranet, Peer Advisors host a community blog to discuss a variety of subjects of interest to matriculating students.

What follows is a blog article written by Peer Advisor, Betty Bek Kai Ng, Class of 2018, and features an interview with 5 faculty members who be working with incoming students as 1st years. I thought all of you as pre-optometry students may both get to know our faculty better and even more importantly, enjoy the answers the faculty provided to the interview questions—perhaps even use what you read for personal statement inspiration!

“Introduction to the First Year Optometry Faculty” 

By Betty Bek Kai Ng, Class of  2018 Peer Advisor, posted on the MBKU’s Peer Advisor Blog

Your optometry career here at Marshall B. Ketchum University is about to begin. How exciting! Now is a great time to connect a few names to faces and to discover some of their interesting tidbits. As you will soon be able to experience, many of the doctors you will encounter go above and beyond in helping you succeed.

Several doctors that will teach during this upcoming fall quarter kindly donated their time to answer a few of my interview questions, some aimed at addressing their student expectations but mainly to provide a brief glimpse into who they are before school officially starts. Here are the instructors included in this interview:

Dr. Morris Berman completed his optometry training in Johannesburg, South Africa and holds an O.D. and Master of Science in Physiological Optics (M.S.) at the University of Houston College of Optometry. He currently serves as University Provost at MBKU and teaches Professional Ethics.


Dr. Morris Berman

Dr. Melissa Contreras

Dr. Melissa Contreras

Dr. Melissa Contreras: graduated with a Biology degree from the University of California, Irvine before earning her Optometry Degree from SCCO. She also completed a residency at the Veterans Hospital in Sepulveda, CA before teaching Clinical Integration of Basic Science on campus.

Dr. John Larcabal received his undergraduate degree in Zoology from Brigham Young University and his Doctor of Optometry degree from SCCO. He has taught Practice Management since 1993 and is actively involved in the SVOSH humanitarian organization trips to Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Venezuela.

Larcabal John

Larcabal John

Dr. Lawrence Stark

Dr. Lawrence Stark

Dr. Corina van de Pol

Dr. Lawrence Stark has an optometry degree from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. He teaches Eye Movements and actively presents his research work at national as well as international conferences.

Dr. Corina van de Pol is an alumnus of University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry. She joined MBKU in 2014 and fun fact: she received “Professor of the Quarter”, last fall for her first quarter of teaching Optics at SCCO.   Now let’s get started:

Why did you choose to go into academia?

Berman : After optometry school I entered private practice for a couple of years then decided to get a Master’s Degree in Vision Science. This experience opened up opportunities to teach and do conduct research and this change my career path. After eight years as a full-time faculty member there were opportunities to become involved in administration – residencies, continuing education, faculty development etc. and this led to a different career direction for me.

Contreras : I hadn’t considered it when I graduated from optometry school but after working in private practice for a year and then completing residency I felt I had something to share with students. I didn’t feel so far removed from students and I wanted to participate in make their learning experience even better than my own.

Larcabal : I became involved with academia by happenstance. I had just purchased an optometric practice and Dr Shaw McMinn asked me to share my experience with his class. Afterwards, he asked if I’d be interested in team teaching his 2nd year course. The rest is history and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

vdP : I’ve always enjoyed teaching and really liked the experience I had as a TA and a clinical instructor during my PhD studies at UC Berkeley. But the real reason is that I was looking for a new challenge after having been in a high-pressure Industry job.

What is one of your favorite memories from optometry school?

Berman : Our optometry class size at the University of Houston was small, about 40 students. This enabled most of us to form very close friendships which helped with our professional studies and resulted in life-long friendships with several classmates

Contreras : My favorite memories from optometry school are those involving patient encounters where I really felt I made a difference. Sometimes it was making a language or cultural connection and other times it was just demonstrating patience and empathy for the patients situation that made a difference in experience. Going on 2 VOSH trips to El Salvador were also some of my most memorable experiences. I learned so much from upper classmen, the patients, community and about international optometry. On campus my favorite memories were created with my friends, studying, finding new places to eat and explore.

Larcabal : One of my favorite memories is sitting in the library with my classmates making up outlandish pneumonics to help us memories unusual facts for the National Boards. It’s been 28 years and I still remember many of them.

vdP : I really liked Skit Night and all the crazy preparation we did for these events. My classmate and I even produced a short film that featured Toonces the Driving Cat (Saturday Night Live) coming to the rescue after the earthquake hit the Bay Area. Unfortunately, the film has been lost forever!

Any lessons you learned the hard way in optometry school?

Berman : Don’t ever assume that the curriculum content is irrelevant. I graduated a few years before optometry gained diagnostic and therapeutic privileges – the pharmacology courses seemed unnecessary at the time but I soon was proven wrong in my estimation of the value of the content.

Contreras : I learned I was over-minused the hard way. Studying for hours and hours over-minused is the most ironic form of torture for a student I think.

Larcabal : An important lesson is to stay current in your classes and not to fall behind. We cover a lot of materials and it’s very difficult to try to pull it all together right before finals. It’s so much better to stay on top of the material throughout the quarter.

Stark : I had just completed a patient exam, and my clinical instructor, Ms Bevan, told me that I had made a serious mistake. She told me to spend a little time in the clinic lunch room to look over the chart and tell me what it was, and then went away. I was sweating bullets: I thought I had missed some serious condition. I was worried about the welfare of my patient. Worse still, I had no answer! Then she came back and told me that I had recorded the subjective refraction in the chart with right and left eye values swapped: which is very bad when the patient has high anisometropia. Apart from strongly reinforcing my current resolve to alwaysdo right and left in order, and to write them in that order, I also valued the opportunity to fail that patient encounter because Ms Bevan did not shout at me. She pointed out something we could both agree on: that you have to be very careful if you are to meet your patient’s visual needs.

Describe the “ideal student.”

Berman : Students who care about what they are doing and work hard to reach their potential. Life requires a balance between work and personal time so those students who have interests and pursue them generally find that balance. I also value those students who are inquisitive and are not afraid to ask questions of their faculty.

Contreras : Someone who demonstrates dedication and passion for the task at hand and shows responsibility for their own learning. These student are so rewarding to work with, they have great attitudes, ask great questions and are great collaborators. It is evident they see beyond the hard work and late hours and get the big picture that is the privilege of providing clinical care.

Larcabal : My ideal student is one that loves learning. They want to understand the material, and not just memorize the information for a test. Hopefully they will take that desire for life-long learning with them after graduation.

Stark : This is something I have thought about after having completed many interviews with optometry applicants. I think there are many valuable qualities and experiences that an optometry student could have. The concept of an ideal student is very difficult to pin down. It is like saying “Which of all the leaves on a tree is ideal?” Is it the one at the tippy-top? Could a leaf on one side have a unique contribution? What if none of the leaves are ideal? Does that matter? The existentialist mantra is that, for humans, existence precedes essence. If this is true in optometry, then it means that you would have to figure by yourself all the skills, attitudes, and personal characteristics that will be of value in your life as an optometrist; that is, your essence. On the other hand, a fixed curriculum is the opposite of this: each course sets conditions (explicit or implicit) of what you have to do to pass the course, and so the curriculum is your essence; it is written there even before you existed as a student. So, just to survive, you have to meet these expectations of what you will be able to do as an optometrist. Beyond that, each of us usually has some scope to decide what one’s essence will be. I wanted to say also that it is very easy in many of today’s societies to conflate ‘student’ with ‘learner’. As a student in modern society (K through 12 and beyond) you are not too different from a can of beans moving along a production line. And while students often do learn, a learner need not be a student. A good example of this is how you will continue to learn after you graduate.

vdP : I appreciate a student who asks questions and challenges me as much I as challenge them. Being a little bit geeky about the science of optometry doesn’t hurt either.

Current music/tv show/book you are enjoying?

Contreras : Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ( all time favorite at the moment!!!), I am also known to binge watch Friends, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, How I Met Your Mother, Any Disney Movie and Bill Nye the Science Guy episodes. Bill bill bill bill!

Stark : Albums: “Blue Sky Mining” by Midnight Oil, an Australian left-wing rock band from the 80–90’s. “Healing Rain” by Michael W. Smith, which is good for reflective moods. “Testify” by M-People, little-known in the US, a 90’s UK band with smooth, strong vocals by Heather Small. TV: we don’t have a TV. It’s true. But we have been watching old re-runs of “Forensic Files” on Hulu. No such thing as a perfect murder. Books: Just finished Gerald Graff “Beyond the Culture Wars”, about taking the conflicting opinions between and within various professions and making them a focal point of the curriculum. (I could go on with more yawn-inducing titles, but I do often find great and interesting things inside books most people would find boring.)

vdP : I’m sort of addicted to “Forensic Files.”

If you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Contreras : I am torn between kimchi and mangoes. Cabbage tastes so much better pickled/fermented! Mangoes are so versatile! They can make salsa, can be paired with sticky rice, can make smoothies, can have chili powder on top. The possibilities are endless. Stark : Ok, I thought carefully about this—but after a while I would die of malnutrition while drinking coffee. (This is a difficult question!) Then, there are some great recipes that my wife and I make, but you could not eat them forever. I do like munching on raw nuts and seeds. Very healthy. Could either of nuts or seeds count as “one food”? Potatoes are good. You can cook them in so many ways. I almost always prefer savory to sweet, but I think vanilla ice cream cones could be a contender.

What is one piece of advice you can offer to the incoming MBKU class?

Contreras : Here are several pieces of advice… These 4 years are like a marathon and job interview all wrapped in one optical adventure. You will make friends that you will keep for the rest of your careers and lives. You will also have some really rough times that you will get through together as a class. Be eager, be responsible, maintain a good attitude, ask for help, be a mentor, pay it forward and always remember the light at the end of the tunnel.

Larcabal : My advice would be to enjoy the process and educational experiences here at MBKU. Many of my closest friends, and many wonderful experiences and memories are a result of SCCO. Although things can get hard at times, know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and enjoy the ride along the way. Also, keep in mind that all us are here for your success. Don’t be afraid to utilize the many resource available to help you succeed.

Stark : There is no bathroom in C building <:o

vdP : Always look for the connections between the different topics you are going to learn. They may not be apparent at first, but optometry is an amazing practice that brings so many different skills into play to give patients a better quality of life.

Who inspires you?

Berman : My inspiration comes from people who have achieved success in making changes that improve the world. Some are artists, others are inventors, some are sportsmen or women who demonstrate skills that are remarkable. I was fascinated by a book I recently read “The Innovators” that details the thousands of people who collectively enabled the digital world to be developed that is such an integral part of our lives today.

Contreras : All my amazing coworkers, my dedicated students and especially my patients. I learn something new every day from each of them. I am lucky to be in the company of people I admire and push me to be better every day.

Larcabal : I’m inspired by those who quietly, and without fanfare, go about serving and helping others. It motivates me to be a better person. An adage I once heard is that as you work hard to make other people successful, you will be successful. Some might call it karma, but whatever you call it, I’ve found that it comes back many folds.

Stark : I think there are lots of inspiring people out there who go unsung and unknown. But here are a few. In music, Neil and Tim Finn, who have kept on writing the musical score to their fans’ lives for four decades, and Mandawuy Yunupingu, who brought Yolgnu culture to the mainstream. Philosopher and educator Nel Noddings. Muhammad Yunus, who developed microfinancing. City planner Hans Monderman. Numerous writers. Elderly people who are caregivers to their partners. My PhD supervisor David Atchison, who has contributed extensively to research on optics. My wife Susanne, who works hard for her family, and is inspiringly elegant. My Mum and Dad, who shaped a lot of what I am today. Optometry applicants and students, who have so many interesting life experiences to talk about.

vdP : I’m inspired by all the mentors I’ve had during my career. Too many to name them all, so I’ll just shout out to Professor Larry Stark (Berkeley, not MBKU) who showed me that vision science is a bit of an adventure.

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