SIPI Students Have Learned Vision Care for 30 Years

Nov 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 21-2: K-12 Education, Winter 2009, Tribal College News


EYE OPENING. Theala L. Redhouse, a 2009 summer graduate, measures the cornea of a fellow student, William Forman, with a keratometer to determine if he has astigmatism.

Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute’s (SIPI, Albuquerque, NM) Vision Care Technology (VCT) program has been operating for 30 years, longer than any other at the institute. In spring 2009, the program received continuing six-year accreditation by the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation and was certified with an A+ grade.

The six-year accreditation term is the longest that a school can receive. The support of the VCT program students and instructors Sam Henderson and Sheri Red Shirt (Diné) helped to achieve this program validation and status.

Henderson has been coordinator/ instructor of the VCT program since it was first accredited in 1989. For 20 years, he has watched SIPI students enter the program, graduate, and go on to fulfilling opticianry careers. “Of any graduating class, 80% to 100% get jobs,” says Henderson.

One former student that Henderson is especially proud of is Red Shirt, a 1992 alumnus of the VCT program who returned to become a SIPI VCT instructor. She has also worked in optometry and ophthalmology in the

U.S. Air Force since 1997. She credits her early SIPI training, saying, “When I joined the Air Force, I knew more about optometry than my instructors there.” In 2007, she was named Ophthalmic Technician of the Year by the Air Force’s Air National Guard Bureau.

Henderson is active in the Opticians Association of New Mexico and other related national associations. In Albuquerque, he collects donated equipment and frames from retired

opticians for the VCT students to use and practice with.

The VCT program is a part of Lions Club International, an organization that recycles old eyeglasses for use in developing countries around the world. SIPI has become the only drop-off site for these donated glasses in the entire Albuquerque area. The students repair the glasses they receive and return them cleaned, polished, and ready to be worn again.

Recently they sent 233 pairs of glasses to Texas where they will be forwarded to South America for adults and children who couldn’t afford them otherwise. Red Shirt says the VCT students practice “humanitarianism and community outreach” through this process.

The students who participate in the program enjoy their learning. “I’m really glad I chose to join the vision program; it’s so much fun!” says one student. Just what is so fun about it? “Surfacing and finishing lenses,” answers another student.

SIPI’s Vision Care Technology Program’s lens fabrication is the only one in the Southwest. Although official eye-test training is not part of the program, students learn about the basics involved.

An on-campus optical store provides students with on-site training and the experience of operating an optical business. Students working in the optical store do everything that selling glasses entails: fitting, repairing, and informing about eyewear.

Students may pursue an Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Vision Care Technology or a Certificate of Completion in Optical Laboratory Technology. This training can lead to employment in retail stores, wholesale laboratories, eye care clinics, optometrists’ and ophthalmologists’ offices, and Indian Health Service medical centers.

“We’ve got a lot of training space; we just need more students,” says Henderson. “It’s a great vocation, and everyone will see an optician at some time in his or her life,” says one VCT student.

This article was compiled from an article written by SIPI student Angelo Robledo and information supplied by SIPI Vision Care Technology instructors Sam Henderson and Sheri Red Shirt. Both may be contacted at (505) 346-7736.

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