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A Focus on the Future: 1980s-2000s

exterior of 424 beacon street building

During the 1980s, the College had two presidents – F. Dow Smith and Sylvio Dupuis. Dr. Smith’s presidency focused on fiscal and long-range planning. Dr. Smith also facilitated the purchase of 418 Beacon Street, the brownstone next door to the College’s Beacon Street location. The acquired building served as a dorm for 30 optometry students and as a home for the clergy of the Archdiocese of Boston at the time. By 1985, in addition to the four year program, there were two year programs for optometric technicians and optometric assistants and continuing education courses. In addition to the Boston Eye Clinic in Kenmore Square, the College had nearly 30 external clinical affiliates throughout the world. During this time, student events included the Eye Ball, the Retinal Rally (a road race through Boston), and the NEWENCO Follies Talent Show.

Dr. Dupuis, who became the College President in 1985, continued the pursuit of a possible move for the school, Ultimately, though, the College stayed at its Beacon Street location. The College did sell its Kenmore Square brownstone, where the College’s Boston Eye Clinic had been housed for many years. The proceeds from the sale became the funds for the College’s unrestricted endowment. The clinic was moved to 1255 Boylston Street, near Fenway Park, and was renamed the New England Eye Institute. The clinic would remain on Boylston Street until 2007.

In the late 1980s, the College instituted its first retreat, a planning day for staff away from the College. It also received its largest gift in 1988 from alumnus Warren Beider, who donated his Long Island home to the College. The proceeds from the sale of the property totaled roughly $450,000, making Dr. Beider’s bequest the largest single gift made to the College, at the time. The College also received generous gifts from Trustee Maurice Saval and alumni Lester Marcus and Joseph Feldberg. These donations allowed the College to meet its capital campaign goal of $2 million and secured its future.

During this same time period, a group of young faculty – Nancy Carlson, David Heath, Kathy Hines, and Dan Kurtz – worked together to create a comprehensive basic optometry curriculum. This curriculum was implemented at NECO and ultimately used by several other schools of optometry. Additionally, the group wrote their own textbook, Clinical Procedures For Ocular Examination, which is used by many schools and students of optometry today. Also during the 1980s, faculty member Mark Zorn designed a new bioscience curriculum, which became a model for many schools of optometry as well.

Following Dr. Dupuis’s four years as President, Larry Clausen was inaugurated as President in 1990. Dr. Clausen originally taught at Pacific University, and came to the College in 1982 to serve as dean of academic affairs. As president, Dr. Clausen focused on the modernization of the institution, including strengthening the academic programs, recruiting faculty, and updating the College’s physical plant. Most notably, he instituted an all clinical fourth year in the four year program. Dr. Clausen sought to enhance the role of trustees, to have the school rely less on tuition as a primary source of income, and for the College to have a clear and focused plan for the future. With these goals in mind, the College adopted an institutional mission statement in 1991, along with specific goals for the future.

In the early 1990s, then Vice President/Dean of Academic Affairs David Heath, along with Dr. Clausen, and faculty member Guang-Ji Wang facilitated the signing of the Twin College Agreement with Wenzhou Medical College in China, making it the first joint program of its kind. The Center for the International Advancement of Optometry was also formed, thanks to the efforts of President Clausen, Dr. Heath, and Bina Patel, also a member of the faculty. In 1993, NECO was awarded its first federal research grant and established what would later become known as the Myopia Research Center. The MRC quickly became internationally known and established the College as a force within eye research. Dr. Jane Gwiazda, hired to lead the MRC, initiated the Correction of Myopia Evaluation Trial, the first NIH sponsored clinical trial in optometry. Equally significant among Dr. Clausen’s accomplishments was the renovation of the Beacon Street buildings. The renovations connected 420, 422, and 424 Beacon Street for the first time and were completed in 1999. Since the renovation, NECO has won several awards for the outstanding preservation of historic buildings.

In 2000, Dr. Alan Lewis became the 10th President of New England College of Optometry. During Dr. Lewis’s presidency, NEEI was restructured as a sole member corporation to focus on its patient care mission while continuing to serve as the primary affiliate for the College’s clinical teaching. During this time period, the College’s nationwide network of affiliated clinical sites grew to include over 50 clinics, hospitals, and specialized care facilities, including three sites in other countries. With David Heath now the Vice President/Dean of Academic Affairs, the College created and implemented a redesigned curriculum. The new curriculum featured a remodeled fourth year rotation, split between a community health center, a VA hospital-based clinic, a special populations and contact lens experience, and a special emphasis elective clinical experience.

Following Dr. Lewis’s tenure as President, Elizabeth Chen became President of the College in 2006, holding the distinction of being the first female to be named the president of a school of optometry. Ms. Chen expanded the educational infrastructure with capability for synchronous distance learning, secured federal and private funding for research and electronic health records, increased philanthropy to the school, and helped the college and students navigate through the global financial crisis of 2007-2008.

During this time period, the College’s clinic moved from its Boylston Street location to Commonwealth Avenue. New England Eye began to serve the nearby Boston University student population and the diverse Allston-Brighton-Brookline area.

Upon the completion of President Chen's tenure, the College's Dean of Academic Affairs, Clifford Scott, was named President in 2009. Dr. Scott served as President for nine years.  Under his tenure, the College continued to strengthen local, national and international partnerships with educational institutions such as Wenzhou Medical College, industry leaders such as Orbis International, and clinical affiliates such as the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. President Scott pushed for strong advocacy of the profession, adapted to the changing field of health care, and embraced technology.  

In 2017, New England Eye was renamed the New England College of Optometry (NECO) Center for Eye Care and a beautiful new clinic and optical center were built on the first floor of the location.  A specialty clinic soon followed and was named the Janet LaBreck Center for Low Vision.  In 2018, the final phase of construction was completed with the opening of the new Clinical Training Facility. This student training facility provides the latest technologies and EHR systems for students to utlized as they prepare to practice in locations throughout the country and the world.