Optometry Students Earn VSP Vision Diversity Scholarship

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October 07, 2022 | Midwestern University

From left: Khalilah Brooks (CCO 2026) and Rachel Piña (AZCOPT 2026) received the inaugural VSP Vision Diversity Admissions Scholarships.

Two optometry students at Midwestern University are the first beneficiaries of a generous scholarship from VSP Vision, the only national not-for-profit vision benefits company and leader in health-focused vision care. Khalilah Brooks of Villa Park, Illinois, attends the Chicago College of Optometry (CCO) on the Downers Grove Campus, and Rachel Piña of San Antonio, Texas, is enrolled at the Arizona College of Optometry (AZCOPT) on the Glendale Campus. They each were awarded a $10,000 VSP Vision Diversity Admissions Scholarship to pursue a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree from Midwestern University.

“Annual eye exams often reveal other health issues, like high blood pressure and diabetes. But being unable to see a doctor who looks like you and understands the types of challenges specific to your community is often a barrier to seeking this essential preventive care,” said VSP Vision Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Marvin Davenport. “That’s why we believe diversifying the future of optometry is so important, and we’re excited to support first-year optometry students with this VSP Vision Diversity Admissions Scholarship.” 

Scholarship recipient Khalilah Brooks (CCO 2026) is the first member of her family to pursue a graduate healthcare degree. “Since I have no other healthcare professionals in my family, the path to optometry school was intimidating. However, I thankfully had several optometrists and academic advisors who helped me along the way,” she said. “I decided to enroll at Midwestern University because I liked the interprofessional education aspect of the school. I believe interprofessional education will help enhance the level of patient care I can provide.”

Khalilah is a graduate of Elmhurst University and was drawn to the field of optometry at an early age.  “My interest in optometry began when I received glasses for the first time in fourth grade and I remember how amazing it felt. I love how optometrists get to make a difference in people’s lives every day,” Khalilah said.  “Also, my interest in pursuing optometry increased when my father found out he had diabetes from an eye exam. I am impressed by the ability of optometrists to detect systemic diseases.”

Khalilah appreciates her opportunity to improve the lives of others and study optometry with the help of the VSP Vision Diversity Admissions Scholarship. “I’m looking forward to seeing my patients’ reactions as I help them with their ocular concerns. This scholarship will help me achieve my goals, reduce some of my financial debt, and allow me to put more focus on my studies,” she said.

As Rachel Piña (AZCOPT 2026) begins her coursework at the Arizona College of Optometry, she is also grateful for the opportunity provided by VSP. “This scholarship not only provides financial relief, but it also serves as a reminder to me that I have a group of people who believe in my success. It’s organizations like VSP Vision that remind students that we have a support system and that we have people and organizations investing in us because they believe we can do it,” she said.

Rachel completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is the first in her family to enroll in a graduate healthcare program. “My mom has a high school education, and my dad has a ninth-grade education. Both are Mexican immigrants and come from humble beginnings. I come from a family of five children and my parents encouraged us to continue with our education, reminding us every day that we can accomplish our dreams.”

Rachel says her family had a significant role in her decision to become an optometrist. “My dad works in construction and ever since I was little, I would look into his eyes, and they were always red. It was later that I learned that the burning heat from working outside, and the sun’s reflection was the cause of his red eyes. Seeing his irritated and red eyes made me promise myself that I would take care of him as a way of showing my gratitude for all his sacrifices,” she added.

The VSP Vision Diversity Scholarship is a welcome addition to the many other opportunities Midwestern University provides to students from diverse backgrounds. Learn more about VSP Vision at www.vsp.com.

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