NECO Honors Community Health Center Partners, Faculty, and Student

faculty instructs student on eye exam equipment in clinic setting

As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of NECO and Community Health Center partnerships, we will be honoring NECO faculty, students, and community members for their dedication and perseverance in providing eye care for all.

Six NECO community members will be honored with various awards that acknowledge their work as clinicians and mentors within community health centers and their positive impact on patients, students, and optometric education. The distinguished honorees include Dr. Crystal Lewandowski, Dr. Meng Meng Xu, Dr. Nicole Pogue, Dr. John Pietrantonio ’80, Dr. Roger Wilson ’80, and Baljot Saini (Class of 2024). The awards include: Andre B Quamina Clinician Award, Community Health Excellence in Eye Care Award, Community Health Legacy Award, and Community Health Center Student Scholarship Award.

Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers’ CEO Dr. Michael Curry Esq. emcees our awards program.

Read his full bio below. 

Award Information
Andre B Quamina Clinician Award

Given to a current NECO clinical faculty member who has been at NECO at least two years, and exemplifies excellence in patient care, clinical education, cultural humility, and patient advocacy in addressing barriers to healthcare. We are proud to award the following clinicians this distinguished honor: Dr. Crystal Lewandowski, Dr. Meng Meng Xu, and Dr. Nicole Pogue.

Community Health Excellence in Eye Care Award

Given to a NECO community health center individual or center that has been a strong partner and stands out in its advocacy and support of Eye Care at the site and in the region. Awarded to Dr. John Pietrantonio.

Community Health Legacy Award

The award recognizes a current or former NECO individual with a minimum of ten years of service whose tenure has had a lasting impact on the NECO Community Health Center Network. This recognition will be given to Dr. Roger Wilson ’80.

Community Health Center Student Scholarship Award

Awarded to a current NECO 2nd or 3rd year student (or accelerated program equivalent) who shows academic promise, exhibits cultural humility in patient care and demonstrates interest in a career in community health. Class of 2024 student Baljot Saini will be granted this scholarship in recognition of her work at Lynn Community Health Center. 

About our Honorees

Dr. Meng Meng Xu

Andre B Quamina Clinician Award

Dr. Xu is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Optometry at NECO, the Clinical Director of Vision Services at the South Boston Community Health Center, and a clinical preceptor. During her twelve years at South 

Boston, she has expanded their opening hours, the number of exam lanes and type of clinical services offered. Dr. Xu is also a coordinator of international programs at NECO, where she mentors international students on communication skills and cultural competency, while helping develop optometry education abroad.   

She is studying for a Masters in Public Health at Harvard University, focusing on Health Management and System thinking. This summer, she is completing an internship at the World Bank to develop a toolkit to strengthen primary health care delivery at the community level in low income countries. She also has a social enterprise start-up teaching soft skills to Asian-American youth. Her areas of interest are community health, health equity and integration of eye care into primary care services. 

Dr. Roger Wilson ’80
Community Health Legacy Award

Roger Wilson, OD, is a 1980 graduate of NECO and holds the rank of Professor Emeritus. Former Vice President for Health Center Programs at NECO (1989-2013), he oversaw tremendous growth of the college’s health center affiliations, resulting in 65,000 annual patient visits to the benefit of NECO’s students and residents. Under his leadership, the health center professional services agreements contributed in more than $1,000,000 annually to the operating revenues of the college’s clinical system.

Dr. Wilson is a nationally recognized leader in community based vision care and interdisciplinary approaches to health services. He has published in the areas of disparities in access to vision services, public health, clinical care, vision care policy, and optometric education. As founding chair of the American Optometric Association’s Community Health Center Committee, he conducted many presentations at the US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration to encourage the US government to add vision services as a required service at health centers nationally. He also served as a credentialed HRSA contractor to assist any health center in need of vision services. He was a frequent presenter and panelist at meetings of the Association of Schools and Colleges, the American Public Health Association, the American Optometric Association, and the National Association of Community Health Centers. Dr. Wilson assisted NOVA Southern University College of Optometry in 1989 when he oversaw their initial Accreditation Council on Optometric Education certification, and again in 1999 where he developed an interdisciplinary clinical education model.

His career experience includes vision services policy, public health advocacy, mentoring and supervision of optometry faculty, technical and advisement services to community health centers, serving as a staff optometrist, clinical teaching, program development, and compliance policies. In addition, he is a past editor of the journal Optometric Education and the former New England Journal of Optometry. In 2012 he was awarded the American Academy of Optometry’s Carel C. Koch Medal for outstanding contributions to the enhancement and development of relationships between optometry and other professions. In 2013 he was given an honorary lifetime membership to the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. And in 2020 Dr. Wilson was awarded an honorary Doctor of Ocular Science from NECO.

Dr. Crystal Lewandowski ’13
Andre B Quamina Clinician Award

headshot of Crystal LewandowskiCrystal Lewandowski, OD, FAAO is the Clinical Director of Vision Services at North End Waterfront Health, a multidisciplinary health center affiliated with Massachusetts General Brigham; and an Associate Professor of Clinical Optometry at NECO. She has published several papers and has lectured nationally on various topics, including ocular disease and cultural humility in optometric practice and the workplace. Dr. Lewandowski has received national grants to conduct research in the area of optometric education as well as launch an advocacy campaign to increase awareness of the importance of eye care for children.

She Chairs NECO’s Quality Assurance Committee, is an active member of ASCO’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Special Interest Group; and is a clinical preceptor to second, third, and fourth year NECO students. Dr. Lewandowski is residency trained in Ocular Disease and Primary Eye Care, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, and is a member of Massachusetts Society of Optometry and American Optometric Association.

Dr. John Pietrantonio ’80
Community Health Excellence in Eye Care Award

Dr. John Pietrantonio is a 1980 Graduate of NECO where he first learned about the community health care system as a fourth year student. He was assigned to the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center for one of his clinical rotations. Following graduation, he joined East Boston in 1981 and has been on staff ever since. Dr. Pietrantonio began as the lead Optometrist until stepping down in 2019, and is now the staff Optometrist. Over the years, he has also been a clinical faculty member at NECO. During his time with the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, he has helped to foster a strong and beneficial collaboration between the Health Center and NECO by providing health care to the community and training future optometrists.

Dr. Nicole Pogue
Andre B Quamina Clinician Award

Dr. Nicole Pogue earned her Doctor of Optometry degree from The University of Missouri, St. Louis College of Optometry. Following graduation, she then completed a community health residency through NECO at the Dimock Center in Roxbury where she currently serves as the Clinical Director of Optometry Services and Residency. She is also an Assistant Professor of Clinical Optometry at NECO. Her area of focus includes community health optometry and is a passionate clinician for the community around her. She seeks to educate her patients on the importance of eye exams to optimize their vision, improve their quality of life, and minimize preventable eye disease.

Baljot Saini, Class of 2024
Community Health Center Student Scholarship Award

After earning her Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Calgary, Baljot entered the optometry world at NECO to explore her passion for vision and healthcare. Driven by her compassionate nature, she takes pride in providing the highest quality of care to patients. Baljot is motivated by her interests and is excited to continue learning about primary care, ocular disease, visual therapy and sports performance vision.

 


Our emcee for the evening’s award ceremony is the CEO of Mass League, Dr. Michael Curry Esq.

Dr. Michael Curry, Esq. is the CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, which represents 52 health centers, serving over 1 million patients throughout the commonwealth. Prior to joining the League in 2008, Michael worked for 16 years at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, much of it as Senior Policy Advisor in Corporate Affairs. He served on the health care transition teams for former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. He was a key player in the passage of Massachusetts Health Reform and the Affordable Care Act. 

Dr. Curry is the past president of the Boston Branch of the NAACP (2011-2016) and has over twenty years of dedicated service to the NAACP at the state and national levels. He was elected to the National NAACP Board of Directors in 2014, and re-elected in 2017 and 2020. He now serves as Chair of the National Board’s Advocacy & Policy Committee, Vice-Chair of the Political Action and Legislation Committee, and as a member of the Executive and Legal Committees.

Dr. Curry served on the City of Boston’s COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force, Mayor Walsh’s Reopening Advisory Group, co-chaired the Legislature’s Health Equity Task Force, and was appointed to Governor Baker’s COVID-19 Vaccine Working Group. 

He continues to serve on the Massachusetts Public Health Association’s Task Force on Coronavirus & Equity, while also coordinating the community health center response to the pandemic with the state Attorney General’s Office, Executive Office of Health and Human Services. 

Based on Michael’s advocacy for community health centers, their patients, as well as health equity in Massachusetts he was included on 2021’s Bostonians of the Year by the Boston Globe and Boston Globe Magazine, honored by the Jewish Alliance For Law and Social Action (JALSA) in 2022, as well as the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association  (MBLA). 

He also served on the boards of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, the  Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, and the Board of Trustees for Roxbury Community College, and continues in the role of Adjunct Professor at the Suffolk University Moakley Center for Public Management and New England Law Boston, where he teaches the course “Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession.” 

Dr. Curry earned a Bachelor of Arts from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from New England Law Boston, and graduated from the inaugural class of the Executive Leadership Council’s Pipeline to Leadership Program.