Celebrating the Women of Optometry
The 2020-2021 academic year marked the 150th anniversary of the UC Regents’ unanimous approval of a resolution by Regent Samuel F. Butterworth: “That young ladies be admitted into the University on equal terms in all respects with young men.” The first women were admitted in 1872, and Rosa Scrivner became the first woman to graduate in 1874 with a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture. Since then, countless women have graduated from UC Berkeley. Staff, faculty, and affiliates have made invaluable contributions to our campus and the world beyond. Berkeley Optometry joins this celebration by honoring the women who have shaped our school, and the field of optometry and vision science. We are featuring an initial group of six of the remarkable women from our community, and will continue to add more in the near future.
Jennie Chai Louie MewBS, ’31
Graduating just before her 20th birthday, Dr. Louie received an exemption from the State of California to practice before the age of 21, and continued to practice for 50 years in San Francisco’s Chinatown as Dr. J. C. Louie before retiring in the early 1980’s. Her legacy at Berkeley Optometry includes several family members who also served the profession and community: brother-in-law Dr. Harold Jew, Class of 1927, brother Dr. King Chew Louie, Class of 1934, son Dr. Arey Mew, Class of 1971, nephew-in-law Dr. Jeffrey Ko, Class of 1973, distant cousin Dr. Sharon Joe, Class of 1990 and her husband Dr. Greg Hom, Class of 1991, and niece Harriet Fong, former Executive Director of the Optometry Alumni Association. Dr. Louie’s identity as an optometrist and Berkeley Optometry alumna never waned even after retiring from practice, and in 2001 she attended the Optometry graduation as part of her 70th Reunion celebration. Her daughter Sylme Ho says returning to campus with her colleagues and community was “food for her soul.” Dr. Louie passed away in 2002.
Karen L. Walker-BrandrethOD, ’68
Walker-Brandreth taught more than 25 didactic courses on ocular and systemic disease, ocular pharmacology, and clinical examination of the visual system, as well as grand rounds and seminars. One of her signature contributions is “Color Code of the Retina,” an innovative system for diagnosing retinal pathology. Dr. Walker-Brandreth has been a role model and mentor to generations of students and optometrists, acknowledged for her commitment and innovative teaching and for her transformative role in the growth of optometry into a respected member among the health care professions. She continues her educational mission today with online Berkeley lectures in glaucoma certification.
Professor Walker-Brandreth received her OD in 1968 from the UC Berkeley School of Optometry. She joined the Berkeley faculty part-time as a Clinical Instructor (Ocular Pathology Clinic and general/ocular pathology) in 1977 and was appointed Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of Ocular Diagnosis Clinics in 1979. She was promoted to Associate Clinical Professor in 1983 and Clinical Professor in 1998. Since 2002 she has been Clinical Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry.
Dr. Walker-Brandreth has held major leadership roles in the design and implementation of every glaucoma CE course presented by Berkeley Optometry. She was Director of Continuing Education (CE) in the 1970s–80s and established Grand Rounds (GR) in 1981–82 as lectures for CE and faculty education programs. She moved GR closer to the traditional medical model in 1991 by introducing live-patient grand rounds, making it a regular feature of the Optometry Alumni Association’s educational CE meeting for ten years.
Dr. Walker-Brandreth has authored many papers and lectured extensively on the subject of ocular disease and other topics before professional and optometric associations, and served as a consultant to numerous professional & licensing organizations. Notably, she is co-author, along with her late husband and Hall of Fame member Roy Brandreth, of the clinical textbook Clinical Slit-lamp Biomicroscopy (1978; as principal author, revised and expanded to two volumes in 2007), which has been widely used in optometric education in the U.S.
Always dedicated to the practice of optometry, Dr. Walker-Brandreth has worked in private optometry/ophthalmological practices since 1968. Dr. Walker-Brandreth’s philanthropic endeavors include establishing the Dora and Stanley Walker Teaching Support Endowment and Dr. Karen Walker-Brandreth Excellence in Optometry Education Professional Student Support Fund. She has also funded the renaming of the School’s lecture room 100 (and pledged for room 489).
Dr. Walker-Brandreth served as President of the Optometry Alumni Association of UC in 1986–87, which also named her Alumnus of the Year in 1995. She was the first recipient of the School’s Roy Brandreth Outstanding Teaching Award in 1989, and thrice more (1994, 1999, 2000). The Karen Walker-Brandreth Lectureship was established in 2003 as a keynote lecture for annual Berkeley Optometry CE programs. In 2006 she received the School’s Michael Harris Classroom Teaching Award, and in 2007 the California Optometric Association’s Excellence In Optometric Education Award, as well as the American Optometric Foundation’s Michael Harris Family Award for Excellence in Optometric Education, the latter honoring optometric educators, selected worldwide, who have demonstrated consistent excellence in the education of optometry students or the advancement of optometric education. She has been listed in Guide to America’s Top Optometrists, 2002–08 and 2013, and in Leading Health Professionals of the World, 2005. She is the first woman and only multiple recipient of the School’s Mert Flom Teaching Award (2007, 2009). In 2014 Dr. Walker-Brandreth was honored as the first woman inducted into the Berkeley Optometry Hall of Fame. Since then, her teaching and philanthropic leadership have continued to shape the school - Berkeley-trained optometrists remember the main lecture hall, Room 489, which Dr. Walker-Brandreth refreshed with new instructional technology tools, and a new scholarship created in 2021.
Gunilla Haegerström-PortnoyOD ’72, PhD ’83
Professor Haegerström-Portnoy has been one of a minority of full-time faculty with OD-PhDs at Berkeley Optometry who have conducted research while also working and teaching didactically and in the clinics. Dr. Haegerström-Portnoy has taught clinically in the Berkeley binocular vision clinic and in the Berkeley Special Visual Assessment Clinic which specializes in visual assessment techniques for the visually handicapped children. Too often, severely handicapped children had not been given the eye care they deserved, especially in cases where it was difficult to determine just what the child could see and how badly vision had been compromised. Her didactic teaching has been in the area of strabismus diagnosis and management for OD students but she also has taught the basic science of color vision to Vision Science PhD students for many years.
Dr. Haegerström-Portnoy has served as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for 29 years, an exceptional record of service, in addition to her exemplary research and teaching career. Indeed, Haegerström-Portnoy has won school, state association and national teaching awards. Areas of research include studies on the chromatic organization of the human parafoveal retina, mechanisms of visual loss with aging, and assessing rod monochromaticism. Most recently, she has continued to explore vision function and aging in relation to physical functional ability, development of refractive errors, low contrast vision function, face recognition in the elderly, and assessment of vision in children with cortical visual impairment.
Dr. Haegerström-Portnoy (OD, ’72; PhD, ‘83) was born and raised in Sweden. Her stepfather was a refracting optician whose sister was an ophthalmologist. After receiving her OD in 1972, she practiced optometry in Sweden for a year, hoping to see vision care move from refracting opticianry to full-scope optometry, but opposition from Swedish ophthalmologists made it too difficult (and legally risky). She returned to the U.S. in September 1973, when Anthony Adams and Merton Flom hired her to assist with research on the dose effects of alcohol and marijuana on eye movements, dynamic visual acuity, time course effects on pupil size and glare recovery, and other related projects at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco. She has collaborated on research projects at the institute since where, in 1981–86, she served as Senior Scientist and also worked with the institute’s founder, Arthur Jampolsky, MD assessing strabismic patients, where she honed her skills in diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
The American Academy of Optometry presented her with two prestigious honors, the Glenn Fry Award (2003) and the Garland Clay Award (2004). The California Optometric Association recognized her career-long efforts toward improving optometric education by giving her the Excellence in Optometric Education Award for 2007; likewise, the American Academy of Optometry awarded Haegerström-Portnoy The Michael G. Harris Family Award for Excellence in Optometric Education in 2009.
Vicki L. HughesOD, ’78
As past president of the National Optometric Association (NOA) — whose mission is to enhance the delivery, effectiveness and efficiency of eye and vision care services especially in the communities with little or no eye care presence — Dr. Hughes advocated an approach to eye care that treated the whole patient; from smoking cessation, to better food choices, mental health awareness and to increasing physical activities. The biggest threat, she says, is that, “The majority of this population of people have chronic illnesses that also need to be addressed. The “three silent killers”: hypertension, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy are some of the results of these chronic illnesses.”
Dr. Hughes attended the University of California Berkeley. She received her BS in physiological optics and OD degree in Optometry in 1978. She was the second Black woman to graduate from the University of California School of Optometry, Berkeley. She became an associate doctor and the first Black woman to practice in San Francisco specialized in orthokeratology, bio-feedback, syntonic light therapy, iridology, nutrition and vision therapy, which, back then was not a major part of the optometric curriculum. Now all these modes of optometry are infused in the college classes and in a normal practice. After being in private practice for a year and a half, she started working at Kaiser Permanente, where she was the first and only Black woman to practice at Kaiser Hayward and Union City, CA for thirty-nine years. She enjoyed the diversity of the patients and colleagues and made sure that her patients were given the best equity care.
During her long career, Dr. Hughes forged friendships with powerful people and exposed them to the optometric profession from the perspective of a Black woman, advocating that overall health, especially eye health is a combination of mental, social and physical well-being. Her list of influential people include: The late Drs. Maya Angelou and Huey P. Newton, the late Cecily Tyson, the late Dr. Dorothy I. Height. Her list of living friends and associates to name a few, include: Dr. Neil Powe, Head of Medicine at UCSF, Vice President Kamala Harris, Ambassador Andrew Young, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, former president Bill Clinton, Gayle King, Congressmen James Clyburn, Barbara Lee and Bennie Thompson, Dr. Millicent Knight, Senior VP- Essilor and writer Terry McMillan whose latest New York Times bestseller novel, “I Almost Forgot About You,” is about a Black woman Optometrist. It is about to be made into a movie starring Viola Davis.
She received the Founders’ Award of the National Optometric Association.
Dr. Hughes recently retired after practicing optometry for forty years. She stays active in optometry by consulting with the new president of the NOA as well as writing articles, gathering NOA photography archives and editing the National Optometric Association’s newsletter. The newsletter was one of the platforms as well as the website under her presidency that was established to promote the NOA’s visibility in social media. She is also a current Alumni Board member of UC Berkeley’s School of Optometry, working along Dr. John Flanagan to help increase the visibility and inclusion of Black students at the School of Optometry. She spends her time focusing on jewelry design, art and home decor projects, photography, writing, and walking. Traveling is soon to come post the pandemic.
Karla ZadnikOD ’82, PhD ’92
Karla Zadnik is the first woman dean of The Ohio State University College of Optometry, the first woman dean of a state/public school or college of optometry, and a prominent patient-oriented researcher in the field of optometry and vision science.
In addition to her role as the Dean of The Ohio State University College of Optometry, where she is also the Glenn A. Fry Professor of Optometry and Physiological Optics, Dr. Zadnik is a Distinguished Scholar, serves as the Executive Dean for the seven Health Science Colleges, and chairs the Biomedical Sciences Institutional Review Board. She is a past president of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry and is a member of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry’s Board of Directors.
Dr. Zadnik received her OD and PhD degrees from the University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry and was the school’s Alumnus of the Year in 2006. Professor Zadnik is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and a Diplomate in its Section on Cornea, Contact Lenses & Refractive Technologies. She served as the Academy’s President in 2011-12. She received the Glenn A. Fry Award from the American Optometric Foundation in 1995 and the Academy’s Charles F. Prentice Award in 2020. Dr. Zadnik was the Study Chairman for the National Eye Institute-funded Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Ethnicity and Refractive Error (CLEERE) Study for 20 years and chaired the first-ever NEI-funded multicenter study based in optometry, the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Keratoconus (CLEK) Study. Her research funds from the National Institutes of Health total $40 million across her career.
Christina WilmerOD, ’96
To a generation of Berkeley Optometry students, Dr. Chris Wilmer is one of the most thoughtful teachers and determined mentors they have ever known. A former soccer player with a passion for coaching, she pushes students to be confident leaders as well as skilled and compassionate doctors. “The clinic provides our students the tools to realize their career dreams,” she says. “My job is to tell them, ‘I know you have the talent, you can do this.’” Wilmer is deeply committed to helping students solve problems and develop a lifelong pride in their profession. “I chose optometry because we help people see and we alleviate pain,” she says. “There’s nothing more gratifying than that.”
Dr. Chris Wilmer attended the University of California Santa Cruz and the University of California Berkeley School of Optometry. She completed a residency program in Primary Care Optometry at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. She has been involved in residency education throughout her academic career as the Chief Mentor of the Primary Care and Contact Lens residency program and currently serves as the Director of Affiliate Residency Programs. Dr. Wilmer lectures locally, regionally and nationally on a number of topics. She has been involved with section leadership within the American Academy of Optometry and has previously served as the Chair of the Anterior Segment Section and she most recently served as the Diplomate Written Exam Chair. She has been involved in the National Board of Examiners Part 1 Applied Basic Science Committee and Council for many years and currently is a member of the Part III Exam Development Committee. In 2020, she was appointed to the American Academy of Optometry’s Board of Directors.