Interim officer aims to expand health programs
The dean of the College of Optometry wasn’t a well-known faculty member at the University. That is until his appointment to interim chief health officer.
President and Chancellor Renu Khator appointed Earl Smith III to serve a two-year term with the priority of initiating a new Health Science Center.
“Enhancing our already-outstanding health care programs remains one of my top priorities,” Khator said in a UH press release.
“The development of our new Health Science Center is a crucial element of that commitment. Dean Smith brings the experience, enthusiasm and energy required for this considerable challenge.”
Smith’s interest in optometry was sparked after his older sister was dating an optometry student at the University when he was pursuing his first degree in mathematics. He said his sister told him to look more into the program.
“I looked into optometry and I thought it has a lot of optics, which fits the math background. Then I took a couple biology courses, and they were absolutely magical, I thought,” Smith said.
He never looked back. Smith obtained four degrees from the University and was hired in the optometry school in 1978. He worked multiple administrative positions within the college before becoming the dean in 2003.
“It’s one of those things that, if I’d plotted out what I’d wanted to do as a career, it would’ve never been in this dean’s office, for example,” Smith said.
“I’m glad I did (make it here), I’ll be honest; it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I still run a research program, I still teach — I don’t teach that much, but I enjoy the heck out of it — I get to nurture young faculty, and I get to be involved in decisions that have impact on the college that I love, so it’s a great job.”
In his research, he was able to discover that the peripheral part of the eye plays a major role in the regulation of eye growth and refractive development, which determines whether someone becomes nearsighted.
“I am confident Earl Smith has the experience and commitment necessary for this important role,” said Provost Paula Short in a press release.
“He has done an outstanding job as dean of the College of Optometry, and I look forward to working closely with him to establish a superb UH Health Science Center.”
The center will be built behind the College of Optometry, housing new clinical facilities for the University’s health programs and for new programs that will be developed. It will likely be the new home for the College of Pharmacy, Smith said.
“We want to expand the educational opportunities for the students who are looking for professional degrees. We want to expand the research opportunities in health-related fields,” Smith said.
“And we want to expand the clinical facilities so they can serve not only our faculty, staff and students on campus, but also the local communities.”
Smith will continue to remain an active part of the College of Optometry and maintain his research lab. He plans to return to his role as the college’s dean after his two-year term and use the college’s faculty and staff to help evolve the Health Science Center at the University. He hopes that he will be able to inform more students, faculty and staff at the University about all the health services and programs available to them.
“… A lot of students don’t know that, first off, that we have a College of Optometry on campus, and second off, they don’t know that we have the largest optometric practice in the city, and they probably don’t know that they can come over here and have the best eye exam at a really low cost, and they can get contact lenses and spectacles at reduced costs here,” Smith said.
“And it’s right here in their backyard. And I could say the same thing for faculty and staff, even though we try to get the word out.”