Kelly K. Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, FAAO, UAB School of Optometry dean, was awarded the Dr. Frank Fontana Career Achievement Award at the 2022 Southeastern Congress of Optometry (SECO). 

The award is named after Dr. Frank Fontana, the first optometrist to receive the lifetime achievement award from Review of Optometry in 2014. Lovingly known by many as “Uncle Frank,” Fontana had a remarkable 70-year career and left an indelible imprint on the profession. He was a friend and mentor to many for generations and passed away at the age of 96 years.

Other awardees affiliated with the School include Emeritus Professor Jimmy Bartlett (2015), and Dr. Paul Ajamian, Atlanta Omni residency supervisor (2017).

“I had the lovely opportunity to meet and talk with Uncle Frank twice—both with hugs,” Nichols said. “He took the time to get to know people, a very special trait, and I am truly honored to receive this award in his name.”

The honor is well deserved. Over the course of her career, Nichols has established herself as a dedicated teacher, skilled researcher, and a leading expert in dry eye disease.

Prior to being named dean of the UAB School of Optometry in 2014, Nichols was a professor at the University of Houston College of Optometry. There, she co-founded and served as co- director for the Ocular Surface Institute, a translational research institute focused on bench-to-bedside research on ocular surface conditions. Earlier, Nichols was faculty at The Ohio State University College of Optometry.

She has served as a medical adviser or an advisory board member for several organizations, including the executive board for the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society. Nichols has published over 125 peer-reviewed papers, and for the last 10 years has served as co-editor of Ocular Surface News, a bi-monthly eNewsletter. She is or has been on the editorial boards of the journals Optometry and Vision Science, and The Ocular Surface.

Having been a board member since 2014, Nichols currently serves as the 2021-2022 president of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO). This optometric academic leadership organization represents the schools and colleges of optometry in North America and is committed to advancing optometric education and research. Currently, ASCO’s primary focus is growing and diversifying a qualified optometry student applicant pool through the program Optometry Gives Me Life. Additionally, she serves as Secretary of the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research/ Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, a vision research advocacy organization.

“We didn’t have the Review dinner at SECO for two years due to the pandemic, making it very special to be honored with everyone in a room together for the first time in a while,” she said. “So many people I have known or who supported me throughout my career were there for this moment. The evening, and the friendship I felt in the room, was something I will always treasure.”