by Satina Richardson

Four of the six UAB School of Optometry deans have served as president of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO). Following in their footsteps, UAB School of Optometry Dean Kelly Nichols is ASCO president for 2021-22.

Nichols is the first ASCO president who also served as president of the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA).

She has been an ASCO board of directors member since 2014. Nichols was first a member of ASCO’s Public Health Education special interest group in 2012. She has chaired several committees, including the Academic Affairs, Resolutions, Research, Ophthalmic Optics, and Financial Affairs committees. In 2019, Nichols served as ASCO secretary/treasurer and president-elect in 2020-21.

As a longtime ASCO leader, Nichols said she is proud that ASCO’s Optometry Gives Me Life campaign has led to an increase in qualified and diverse optometry school applicants. She also applauds ASCO’s continued focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“For years, ASCO has been involved in many diversity, equity and inclusion activities which have become increasingly important and more visible,” Nichols said. “That will remain a prominent focus over the next year.”

Collaborative efforts, like the ASCO/NOA/AAO Cultural Competency Workshop, will continue under her leadership.

Nichols was named Dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry in 2014. Prior to that appointment, she was a professor at the University of Houston, College of Optometry, where she co-founded and served as Executive Director for the Ocular Surface Institute, a translational research institute focused on bench-to-bedside research on ocular surface conditions. Earlier, she was faculty at The Ohio State University College of Optometry.

Nichols currently serves as secretary for the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research/ Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR/AVER) board, has been on the executive board of the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society and on each of the steering committees (DEWS, DEWS II, Contact Lens Discomfort, and MGD workshops). Nichols is also a founding member of the Ocular Surface Society of Optometry. A leading expert in dry eye disease, Nichols is or has been on several editorial boards and is extensively published.

“I am thankful I have had great mentorship throughout my career and I’m excited to find and promote the next generation of optometry clinician-scientists, teachers and leaders,” she said. “As we emerge from COVID, it would be nice to focus on the optometric academic workforce—finding, encouraging and mentoring the next generation.”  

In the upcoming year, Nichols is enthusiastic to continue collaborations with the many optometric organizations and industry partners that support the profession. Nichols said, “There has never been a time where working together has been as important as it is in today’s environment. We are better together.”