Taylor White ’21, an aspiring optometrist originally from Millis, Massachusetts, will graduate this spring with a degree in biochemistry from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She has conducted research on metabolic disease in the Trino Laboratory at NC State, as well as in the Guertin Lab at UMass Memorial Medical Center. With support from a Park Enrichment Grant, she attended an in-residence bootcamp at UC Berkeley School of Optometry in July 2019 where she learned about the profession of optometry, studied the fundamentals of vision health, and participated in a live eye exam simulation. She interned as an optometric technician at The Eye Institute and spent a semester studying at Københavns Universitet in Copenhagen, Denmark. After graduation, Taylor will continue her studies at the State University of New York College of Optometry.
What brought you to NC State?
I originally was attracted to NC State because of its proximity to the Research Triangle. I initially thought I wanted to go into genetic research and I wanted to be close to those paving the way in the field.
Really, though, the people that I met while visiting campus sealed the deal for me. Everyone was so nice and genuine.
How did you initially hear about the Park Scholarships program?
I received an email about the program when I was starting to apply to colleges. The more I read about it, the more I knew this was the exact program I wanted to be a part of.
What inspired your interest in optometry?
I became interested in optometry halfway through my undergraduate career while working in a lab that used ocular markers in mouse models to understand how cancer affected a certain cellular pathway. I found myself much more interested in the ocular side of things than in the actual cellular pathway. I shadowed some optometrists and had a few hands-on experiences in eye practice. I loved everything about the field.
How have your experiences as a Park Scholar influenced your decision to pursue this career?
It was actually my mentor (the person that Park pushed me to find and build a relationship with in my first semester) who first mentioned optometry to me. Dr. Alice Lee was chatting with me after spending a summer in a lab and she realized that I might be more interested in the clinical portion of ocular disease than the research side. She encouraged me to get some shadowing experience and see how I liked it.
How else have your Mentors helped you?
I have had so many mentors. First and foremost, Dr. Alice Lee has been my number one, go-to person on NC State’s campus. I used her for both professional and personal mentorship and I cannot imagine my time at State without her. I also have quite a few mentors at the optometry practice I work for. We are a multi-office practice and I have had the chance to work under seven different doctors. The two that have guided me the most are Dr. Timothy Poirier and Dr. Joanna Reiman. They are both extremely intelligent doctors who care so much about their patients, and they are also excellent teachers. Whenever there is downtime at the clinic, they spend the time teaching me new skills and techniques. They have inspired me more than they could ever know.
Tell us about your internship experience.
I am an optometric technician intern at The Eye Institute. We have four locations in the Triangle: Downtown Raleigh, Knightdale, North Raleigh, and Wake Forest. Throughout the semester, I work part-time, 20 hours per week, as an optometric technician intern. I have all of the same responsibilities as the other technicians. During the summer, they take me on full-time. The internship program is open to any undergraduate student interested in attending optometry school and pursuing a career in optometry. The staff and doctors not only teach you clinical skills, but they have also shown me the billing and insurance side of the practice as well as the marketing and sales side that comes with making and selling our own glasses.
What have you gained through this internship?
This internship has given me hands-on experience working with patients in an optometry setting, and it has allowed me to realize how much I enjoyed it. I am confident in pursuing my career because of the experiences this internship has given me. I have learned how to complete an entire patient work-up to prepare them for their eye exam with the doctor, including refraction techniques, diagnostic testing for glaucoma and macular degeneration, and lipiflow procedures.
Did the Park Scholarships program help you in your pursuit of these experiences?
Park has always encouraged me to use my network to find exciting opportunities. I ended up getting in touch with the coordinator of this internship through a colleague of a connection. All I had to do was ask if they knew anyone! I definitely wouldn’t have had the confidence to reach out without Park.
What are some of the highlights of your experience as a student at NC State and as a Park Scholar?
I got the chance to study abroad in the fall of my junior year. In the fall of 2019, I spent 5 and a half months in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was an extraordinary experience and one that taught me a lot. I also made great relationships within the Park Scholarships program. Some of my best friends are members of my Park class, and I have had so much fun being part of the mentorship program and being a freshman retreat facilitator.
What is your favorite part of the Park Scholarships program?
The people! The Park Scholarships program, and NC State as a whole, attracts the most genuine, good-natured, down-to-earth people. And those are my kind of people! I have found comfort and solace in others within the Park program during some of my more struggling times as a student, and I’ve found happiness and silliness with others within the program during the more upbeat times. Someone has been where you are before and everyone is so open and kind.
What has been the most impactful lesson you learned as a student at NC State?
I have learned how to celebrate the wins! Whether they are my wins, or the wins of people I care about, we celebrate the good things first and foremost. It’s important to acknowledge and fix mistakes, but it’s also very important to recognize accomplishments and welcome the good things in with wide-open arms. If we don’t make it a priority to receive the good in a joyful manner, it will slip through the cracks before we even notice.
As the Park Scholarships program celebrates its 25th year, what do you hope to see from Park Scholars in the next 25 years?
Wow! In the next 25 years, I hope to see Park Scholars keeping their positive energy. We have so many different scholars in so many different walks of life, and everyone is so passionate about what they do. I hope to see more collaboration between different fields and disciplines, and I hope to see that passion continue to bubble over the surface. We have a lot to work to do as a society, and I don’t want anyone getting complacent; we need to keep the energy going.
What advice do you have for current Parks and other NC State students as they navigate their college years?
Find a mentor and then truly use that person as a mentor. Surround yourself with people who are too busy working on themselves to speak poorly about anyone else, and who are just as excited about your success as they are about their own. The people you form relationships with matter. They help to form some of who you are at your core, and that is no small thing.