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A series of images from the UAB Archives

Office of the Dean, School of Optometry, 1969-

Immediate Predecessor:


Immediate Successor:


Reporting Hierarchy:

1969-1995:  School of Optometry, Vice President for Health Affairs, President
1995-   School of Optometry, Provost, President


Henry B. Peters, 1969-1986
Bradford W. Wild, 1986-1993
Arol R. Augsburger, 1994-2000
(Interim) John F. Amos, 2000-2003
John F. Amos, 2003-2009
(Interim) Rodney Nowakowski, 2010-2011
Rodney Nowakowski, 2011-2014
Kelly K. Nichols, 2014-


In 1967, the Alabama Optometric Association requested the establishment of an Interim Joint Legislative Committee to study the feasibility and need for a publicly supported optometry school in Alabama. The state in 1966 was ranked 49th out of 50 in the ratio of professional optometrists to the general population.  The Joint Legislative Committee recommended that an optometry school should be established, and during the 1967 legislative session, the Alabama State Legislature appropriated $50,000.00 to study the costs of maintaining such a school. UAB was chosen as the site for the new school, and a budget plan for the school was submitted to the legislature as part of UAB’s budget request in 1969. The School of Optometry began operations during the 1969-1970 academic year as the first optometry school in the US to be integrated into an academic medical center.

In August of 1969 Dr. Henry Peters from the optometry school at the University of California-Berkeley was selected as the first dean of the new school. His appointment became official on September 1, 1969, and he immediately went to work to organize the school.  Within a very short period, Peters and staff from UAB, most notably Margaret “Peggy” Crosswhite, an administrative assistant in the office of UAB President Joseph F. Volker, recruited a faculty to Birmingham, recruited students, and established the curriculum of the new school.

Dr. Peters organized the school into two departments:  the Department of Optometry and the Department of Physiological Optics [later renamed as the Department of Vision Sciences]. He explained that the establishment of two departments had been done to allow the full-time faculty and the part-time clinical adjuncts to have input into their specific department and, more specifically, to provide for the part-time adjuncts to be a part of the faculty in all aspects, unlike his prior experiences at Berkeley (Peters Oral History Interview, MC45).

On September 27, 1969, the first eight students matriculated in the university’s new School of Optometry.  Six students received Bachelor of Science degrees in Physiological Optics in June 1971 as the school’s first graduates.  On June 4, 1973, seven students received the first O.D. degrees awarded at UAB; Neil M. Bleakley was the School of Optometry’s first doctoral graduate.  The following year, on June 9, 1974, Catherine Steinmitz Amos became the school’s first female graduate, and on June 4, 1978 Terrence N. Ingraham became the school’s first African American graduate.

The UAB optometry school prepares individuals for the practice of optometry and offers continuing education to practicing optometrists.  The school also conducts research relating to optometry. The school has grown enormously in the four decades since the initial class of eight students.  As of 2007 the school had an enrollment of 164 professional students, 22 graduate students, and 11 residents, with an average enrollment of 40-45 professional students per admitted class.  There were 47 members of the full-time faculty in 2007.

On December 1, 1972, a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony was held at UAB to begin the construction of the school’s first permanent home.  Since its establishment in 1969, the school had been housed temporarily in other campus facilities, in the Computer Research Laboratory first and then the University Ambulatory Center.  The School of Optometry Building cost over $5.5 million and was dedicated in ceremonies held on September 12, 1975 – in 1994 the building would be renamed the Henry B. Peters Building in honor of the school’s founding dean.

The optometry building has over 40 fully-equipped examination rooms containing state-of-the art diagnostic instruments, all within a 34,000 square foot clinic. In 2004 a $6 million renovation of the building’s clinical teaching facilities was completed and reopened as the new “UAB Eye Care” clinic.  Programs offered in the clinic include “everything from primary eye care, including the dispensing of glasses and contacts, to the treatment of ocular disease, low vision rehabilitation and pediatric vision care” (UABSO website).

In addition to the Peters Building, school faculty, staff, researchers and students are also housed in other buildings around the UAB campus, in the Worrell Building (acquired 1985), the Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering (acquired 1994), and the Center for the Development of Functional Imaging (constructed 2002).  Since 1986 the private practice of the optometry faculty has also been housed in a separate facility on the university campus.

In 1978 the School of Optometry became the first in the US to establish an optometric residency program, and in 1983 the school became the only such school in the nation to require students to pass the National Board Examination to qualify for graduation. In 1979 the Vision Science Research Center was established, the first time such a center had been established in an optometry college or school. By the 2000 academic year, the school had over $29 million in extramural research funding, more than any optometry school in the United States.

The deans of the school developed a major clinical program with clinics operating in the UAB Medical Center at the Veterans Administration Hospital, the Diabetes Hospital, and the Sparks Center for Development and Learning Disorders. Additionally, clinical rotations were established at facilities around Alabama, including, among others, the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuscaloosa, the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, and Camp Seale Harris on Lake Martin near Alexander City.

By the fall of 2013, the School of Optometry had a student enrollment of 207, with 37 full-time faculty members. Following the arrival of the school’s new dean in 2014, a planned renovation project on the Peters Building was started with work being done on the interior of the building and on the exterior.

Dr. Henry Peters served the school’s first dean from 1969 until the end of July 1986. His successor, Dr. Bradford Wild, who had previously served as the school’s associate dean, held the deanship of the optometry school from August 1, 1986 until his retirement on December 31, 1993. On January 1, 1994, Dr. Arol Augsburger, a professor of clinical optometry at Ohio State University College of Optometry, became the school’s third dean. He served as dean until 2000 when he was named Interim Provost at UAB.  Augsburger was succeeded at the optometry school by long-time faculty member Dr. John Amos, who first served as interim dean for several years while Augsburger remained the university’s Interim Provost.  In June 2003, Amos was named fourth dean of the school. He served until December 2009 and was succeeded by Dr. Rodney Nowakowski, who became interim dean as of January 1, 2010. Dr. Nowakowski became the school's fifth death in March 2011 and served until his retirement in May 2014. Dean Nowakowski was succeeded by Dr. Kelly Nichols, who became the school's sixth dean on June 25, 2014. She came to UAB from the University of Houston.

Bibliographic Sources

Dictionary of Academic Units at UAB

Building on a Vision: A Fifty-Year Retrospective of UAB’s Academic Health Center, Virginia E. Fisher, 1995

Henry B. Peters Oral History Interview, February 7, 1995 (Manuscript Collection 45, UAB Archives)

School of Optometry, University of Alabama at Birmingham:  25th Anniversary Photographic History, 1969-1994, Henry B. Peters, 1994

This page created 2009 and last updated by Tim L. Pennycuff on 28 January 2015.

Copyright: The University of Alabama Board of Trustees

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