Featured Partner: Sheri Red Shirt & The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute
In an unassuming building on the campus of Albuquerque New Mexico's Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), students navigate the hallways on their way to Sheri Red Shirt's classroom. Her students take their seats and settle in for an in-depth lesson on the anatomy of the eye and how it relates to the pair of eyeglasses they are about to make.
Sheri, a member of the Navajo Nation, serves as one of two Vision Care Technology program instructors at this unique Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) college that has been providing important educational opportunities to Native American students for more than 40 years.
Seva's American Indian Sight Initiative supports Sheri's efforts to bridge a gap and address a shortage of Native American eye health professionals, while at the same time providing valuable economic opportunities for her students.
Sheri proudly explains, "Our program teaches a skill that will sustain each student after they graduate and provide a career for them so that they can provide for themselves, their families and give back to their communities."
"We work on a limited budget with very limited funds," notes Sheri. "Seva's support for additional ophthalmic equipment is increasing our ability to be more efficient. Wear and tear on our equipment is always a challenge because we teach year round with constant use. Keeping the equipment calibrated and on target is also difficult. If we're asking students to make a perfect pair of glasses, but the equipment is slightly off, that doesn't help our teaching methods. We received additional lensometers from Seva which have absolutely made a difference by allowing each student to work with a lensometer during instruction and skills development. The trial lens sets Seva provided also increased student success in our refraction course."
Sheri noted that nearly all of her students are on restricted incomes, and many find the cost to take the American Board of Opticianry licensing exam at the end of their coursework prohibitively expensive. "To be certified is important for their marketability and employment. It is something that the industry is requiring more and more for even entry-level positions. Our students are well prepared as far as understanding the foundation of optics, applying their skills when making a pair of glasses and understanding the concepts, but when it comes to their certification exam, a lot of times they cannot afford to take that test. The fees are a struggle for them. We do find though, when they are able to take the test they do very well and succeed. Seva donors are giving our students a ‘light at the end of the tunnel' by generously providing funds that sponsor them to take this national certification."
"Our students are able to go anywhere and pursue their career," Sheri says, with a beaming smile. "They are very comfortable stepping into the industry based upon what we've taught them here. They're able to understand the dynamics of business and retail as well as the optical and medical end of things so that they can find their niche in vision care. I see them go everywhere from becoming staff at eyeglass stores, to laboratory managers, ophthalmic assistants and even surgical technicians." Seva is also pleased to share that some graduates of the program have also gone on to join the staff of Native-run health clinics.
Sheri proudly states, "We have a lot of successful Native students that come from this program. They are now able to provide for themselves and provide for their families."
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