by Satina Richardson

Dr. Keshia S. Elder, associate professor at the UAB School of Optometry (UABSO), will become the first African American female in the nation to lead a school of optometry. Effective September 1, 2022, she will be dean of the College of Optometry at the University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL).

Elder is the second UABSO African American faculty member to rise to the position of dean. Melvin Shipp, OD, MPH, DrPH, was the first African American to join UABSO’s faculty in 1976. He became the country's first African American optometry school dean, holding the position at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, 2004-2014.

The three-time UAB alumnus—Elder earned her MS in vision science and Doctor of Optometry degree from the UAB School of Optometry and holds an MS in instructional design and development from the UAB School of Education—said that becoming a dean was her goal. Making history as the first Black dean was unexpected, however.

“I am happy that this moment has come,” she said. “Hopefully, my achievement will inspire others to continue to work towards their goals. I hope that people see themselves in me and know that if I can do it, they can do it.”

The South Carolina native began her optometry career in 1998 as assistant head optometrist at the Naval Medical Clinic in Annapolis, MD. She ascended to head optometrist at practices within the United States Navy during a five-year stint in the Medical Service Corps.

In 2004, her career in academia began at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology where she served as an assistant professor. Elder then held assistant and associate professor roles at UABSO and UMSL before returning to UABSO in 2016.

A proven leader, she became the School’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in 2020. She is the externship director and completed the university’s Health Leadership Academy. During her tenure at UABSO, Elder served as course director of Clinical Management of Vision Problems, Public Health Optometry II, and Contact Lenses II. She was an attending in UAB Eye Care’s Contact Lens and Primary Care Clinics as well.

Elder’s involvement in professional organizations includes being a member of the American Optometric Association and serving as associate editor for the journal Optometric Education by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO). She serves as the ASCO Applicant Pool Development Taskforce liaison to the Diversity and Cultural Competency Committee. She is chair of the ASCO Diversity, Equity and Inclusion special interest group (SIG) and is, therefore, the ASCO DEI SIG liaison to the DCCC. Elder is co-chair of the ASCO Externship SIG, serves as the Trustee At-Large II for the National Optometric Association, and is a member of the Nominating Committee for the American Academy of Optometry.

Lastly, Elder has earned DEI certifications from UAB’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the University of South Florida Muma College of Business.

“UMSL is fortunate to have Dr. Elder joining as dean,” said Kelly Nichols, OD, MS, PhD, FAAO, UAB School of Optometry dean. “I couldn’t be prouder of Dr. Elder than I am right now. She is a capable, experienced leader who will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the students, faculty and staff at UMSL.”

Elder said now is an exciting time to take the helm at UMSL. Outgoing dean, Larry Davis, has positioned the school to provide state-of-the-art optometric education, engage in meaningful optometric scholarship, and cultivate a culture of service and community engagement. Yet, she will miss UABSO.

“I will always view UABSO as my family and I will miss everyone tremendously,” she said. “The clinical training and professional development that I received while a student and faculty member at UABSO have prepared me to serve as dean at the UMSL College of Optometry.”