Student Focus on Halea Kohl
Name: Halea Kohl
Hometown: New Eagle, Pennsylvania
High School: Ringgold High School
Undergraduate Institution: Washington & Jefferson College
Undergraduate Degree: Neuroscience
Anticipated #OSUopt Graduation Year: 2025
How old were you when you received your first eye exam? What was the experience like for you?
I was eight years old when I had my first eye exam. I was having trouble seeing the board in class, so my parents took me to the local optometrist, where I got my first pair of glasses. I remember thinking that having glasses made me feel more grown-up, because I’d get to look like my parents. My dad has always been my hero and best friend, so I couldn’t wait to have something else to share with him – even though it was bad eyesight. I was a little girl with a big imagination, and it really did feel like magic at the time!
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in optometry?
I decided I wanted to be an optometrist in middle school. At the time, getting to say “I want to be an optometrist” made me feel unique because no one else in my class dreamed of being an eye doctor. I knew I wanted to work with people in a way that could make a huge impact, and when I remembered how much I benefited from going to the optometrist, I just felt that it was the career for me.
Why did you choose Ohio State Optometry?
I chose Ohio State Optometry for two reasons. The first is that Ohio State offered things outside of the Doctorate of Optometry degree that I was interested in pursuing, those being the Master’s in Vision Science dual program and the Professional School Orchestra. Second, and most importantly, the energy that the faculty brought to the table showed me immediately that this was a place that I could also pour all my energy into and get a full return on the investment. I could tell, even through the computer for my interview day on Zoom, that the faculty really cared about who they welcomed in because we are the future of optometry and needed to be willing to commit ourselves to not just a school, but a strong legacy of top-notch eye care professionals.
What was your first impression of Ohio State Optometry?
My first impression was that Ohio State Optometry was a future-forward institution that upheld the highest standards of both clinical education and patient care. Ohio State is second to none in all regards. I got the impression at my first open house that this program was rigorous and that’s why they only accept the best students, which made me feel so proud when I got accepted! I remember feeling impressed by the college with every new thing I learned about it. I also really loved the campus because it had a lot of green spaces, so even though I was moving to a city, I could enjoy the outdoors very easily.
What surprised you most about Ohio State and/or Columbus?
Honestly, just how big the campus was. My undergraduate college was very small, so coming here and seeing so many people was a shock. On top of that, realizing what a tightly-knit community the College of Optometry had was amazing. It wasn’t hard to find a group that I’ll consider some of my best friends for the rest of my life! Outside of school, I was really surprised by the amount of community festivals or events that Columbus hosts. I definitely recommend going to their farmers’ markets in the summer. I’ve really enjoyed getting to experience all of it with my new friends here!
Which clubs/organizations have you joined at Ohio State?
Since starting at Ohio State Optometry, I have been a member of the Professional School Orchestra for three semesters. I was accepted into the Master’s in Vision Science program at the end of my first year, and I have been working toward completing that degree since the summer of 2022 by doing research with Dr. Dougherty on the impact of AMD on hazard perception in driving. More recently, I volunteered to take on a leadership role in SAAO – a national organization that promotes student involvement in research – as well as become the KMK student representative to support my class as we prepare for NBEO Part 1 next year. Additionally, I learned about a local organization called VoiceCorps at a scholarship dinner, so I also co-host a live news broadcast one Saturday each month for listeners that have visual or physical impairments preventing them from reading on their own.
Who has most positively affected you during your time as an optometry student so far?
For me, I found this question to be impossible to answer. Each and every person I’ve interacted with since coming here has left me with a new perspective on the practice of optometry and what it means to be a doctor. Not once have I felt that I should separate who I am from the image I have of a stellar optometrist, which I think is important for all students in a class of such talented future optometrists to feel. Any faculty or staff member I’ve talked to here has been incredibly supportive!
What was your favorite part of optometry school so far and what are you looking forward to in future years of the program?
My favorite part of optometry school so far has been participating in community screening events, the RAM trip being my most recent one. Even though I still have a lot to learn, getting to use the skills I have to help people in local communities was such a fulfilling and affirming experience. I’ve never felt more strongly that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m most looking forward to finding out more about myself, finding out where I belong in this amazing field, and spending the rest of my life loving the work that I do. I’m still not sure what practice modality I want to work in, so I also look forward to my fourth year externships to see the different ways optometrists work.
What advice do you have for the Class of 2027 as they start optometry school this fall?
Keep your eyes open to search for the joy in everything you’re doing. As you go through each course, remember your “why” for choosing optometry. Those two things will be good motivators for you throughout school. If you find yourself full of questions, seek people out to talk about them! You will always be able to find someone here who loves whatever it is that you love, so know that you’re never alone on this journey.