Home News American Optometric Association Announces Award Winners

American Optometric Association Announces Award Winners

Also, ODs announce their candidacy for AOA Board of Trustees

The American Optometric Association (AOA) has announced the six prestigious award winners for 2021.

Michelle Welch, OD, a staff optometrist for the Idabel Choctaw Nation Health Clinic in Idabel, Oklahoma, will be the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award.
Belinda Starkey, OD, of Rogers, Arkansas, will be honored as Optometrist of the Year.
Erick Henderson, OD, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, will be the recipient of the Young Optometrist of the Year award.
Lillian Kalaczinski, OD, of Ferris State will receive the Optometric Educator Award.
George Balato, CPOA, will be the recipient of the Paraoptometric of the Year award,
and Samantha Serrano will receive the Paraoptometric Community Service award.

The winners will be honored at a ceremony during the 2021 Optometry’s Meeting. Read more about these winners.


At that time, the AOA membership will also elect and install its new board of trustees. The AOA released its member spotlight with these statements from the candidates.

Top row (l-r): Dr. Layman, Dr. DeVleming, Dr. Benner and Dr. Reed. Bottom row (l-r): Dr. Bowen, Dr. Geist and Dr. Starkey

Robert C. Layman, OD, of Findlay, Ohio, will become the next AOA president, after serving on the board since 2013. Dr. Layman says, “My goal for the profession in the year ahead is to equip our members to practice full-scope, contemporary optometry, embracing new technologies and procedures in order to better serve patient needs. The AOA must continue to fulfill its role of most effective advocacy change agent for the profession. I look forward to the impact our new See and Be Seen program will have on public awareness of the important care we deliver. Hopefully, we can safely rejuvenate the collegiality that is our hallmark through in-person events in the year ahead.”

James P. DeVleming, OD, of Pullman, Washington, has filed for the office of AOA president-elect after serving on the board since 2014. Dr. DeVleming says, “As President-elect of the American Optometric Association, I will be committed to communications between members, committees, the board and staff to make sure the association continues to provide the services needed to help members and promote our profession. I also hope to encourage all of us to recognize the great services we provide each day. We are the everyday heroes our patients deserve and an integral part of the health care system. We will continue to show patients through high-quality care, as well as show the government, regulators and other health care professionals the heroes we truly are.”

Ronald L. Benner, OD, of Laurel, Montana, has filed for the office of AOA vice president after serving on the board since 2015. Dr. Benner says, “It has been a privilege to serve this organization. Although COVID presented many challenges, it also opened up opportunities. I am proud to be a part of a board that responded quickly to the challenges to assist the entire profession as well as seizing the opportunities to put the AOA in position to move the contemporary practice of the optometry profession forward. Developing tools and resources that will allow each of us to address the continued challenges in order to succeed in whatever the new normal is will remain a priority. The AOA is the only advocate for the entire profession, and I’m committed to maintaining our strong, unified voice for the profession. No challenge is insurmountable when we work together.”

Steven T. Reed, OD, of Magee, Mississippi, has filed for the office of AOA secretary-treasurer after serving on the board since 2016. Dr. Reed says, “It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve on the AOA Board of Trustees. Over the past few years, optometry has faced many obstacles and been presented with many opportunities. I want to thank each of you for your confidence in allowing me to work with my fellow board members to navigate these highs and lows for the betterment of our profession. Our focus on contemporary optometry has raised the bar and given each of us as doctors of optometry new pathways for better patient care. Our work is not done though. My promise to you is to continue the good fight for our profession and our patients. ”

Jacqueline Bowen, OD, of Greeley, Colorado, has filed for re-election to the AOA Board of Trustees. She says, “I believe optometry is in a place of great opportunity. What could have been a disastrous year for our profession became a stunning display of ingenuity, communication, flexibility and an even more solid commitment on the part of the Board of Trustees to lead the AOA into an era of rapid expansion. Personally, I’ve had many opportunities to exercise my skills in building consensus and collaboration, and I’ve worked especially hard at helping to elevate optometry in the eyes of groups outside the AOA. It has been a privilege to serve in AOA leadership, and I am enthusiastic about working hard to advance advocacy at all levels in an unprecedented way.”

Teri K. Geist, OD, of Omaha, Nebraska, has filed for re-election to the AOA Board of Trustees. She says, “The pandemic has tested our resilience, posing unimaginable challenges to our profession and society. Yet, because of AOA’s, affiliates’ and doctors’ determined advocacy, optometry is stronger than ever. We are at the precipice of greater opportunities and it has been my great honor to serve the profession. I will continue to work hard to advocate and advance contemporary optometry.”

Belinda Starkey, OD, of Rogers, Arkansas, has filed for election to the AOA Board of Trustees. Dr. Starkey has served as a member of the AOA’s Industry Relations Committee and the House of Delegates Credentials Committee. Dr. Starkey is a past president of the Arkansas Optometric Association and is currently co-chair of the state legislative committee and founder/chair of Networking Optometric Women. She says, “I am motivated to serve and have a desire to assist in the fight to preserve, promotes and advance the profession of optometry. I have served in many different leadership roles throughout my life and feel that I have the drive, experience and dedication to be a positive influence. I would like the opportunity to work alongside some of the most devoted and hardest working people of our profession including the state leaders, volunteers and staff of the AOA and members of the AOA board. I believe optometry must unite as one and stand together no matter the obstacles we face. It would be an honor to represent optometry on the AOA Board of Trustees.”

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