By Maryann Santos

Nearly 200 opticians, apprentices and optical students descended on Memphis, Tenn., for the Opticians Association of America’s (OAA) 34th annual Leadership conference, hosted at the Peabody Hotel (pictured) famed for the daily march of the ducks who spend their day lounging in the hotel fountain. This year’s conference was titled “The Keys in Leadership.” Throughout the event, we found many “keys.” Doors and ideas were unlocked, along with a new initiative that will have a positive impact on the field of opticianry in all states. The “key” takeaways were unlocking our potential, serving others in the form of education and good works, and building our state societies.

The OAA mission is to serve as the single unified voice of the profession and is committed to promoting the professional stature of opticians through leadership, education, legislative representation and communication. The OAA fosters, supports and sponsors programs of competency certification, licensing and continuing education for the professional development of all opticians.

More than half of the 50 states sent representatives. One of my favorite highlights of the conference is the State Roll Call. Chris Allen, OAA’s executive director, starts with Alabama and ends with Wyoming by calling each state, and the representatives cheer, sing or just shout out a “yahoo.” Many attendees were decked out in eyeglass-themed attire; comradery was on full display.

Dozens of student and apprentice leaders attended. They had unique breakout sessions specifically designed for their leadership growth and development. Stacey Evans, a first-year student from Goodwin College’s Vision Care Technology program, had this to say: “The leadership conference was a great opportunity to connect with so many people across the country who all have one thing in common... the love for opticianry and rediscovering the ‘why’ we do a highlight for me. Everyone has their ‘ah-ha’ moment full of heart flutters, and this weekend was the perfect opportunity to bring all the feelings back and simply embrace our profession.”

Awards presented include: State Leader of the Year award—Russ Fritz, Jr. of Conn.; OAA Future Leader Award—Moses Nawlo of N.Y.; and Optician Hall of Fame Inductees were past presidents: Lillie Augenstein, Arthur Clancy, William C. (Curt) Duff, Jon Durkin, C. Richard Sanders Sr., and former executive director Paul Houghland Jr.

All sponsoring vendors had the opportunity to give a short presentation to the group along with the opportunity to meet attendees. The setting allowed attendees to have conversations with the vendors to learn more about their products, and how they can best serve their patients. This remarkable event would not be possible without these generous sponsors.

There’s networking, there’s learning and there’s fun at Leadership as discovered by those who attended Friday night’s scrumptious southern dinner (yes, shrimp and grits), an Elvis impersonator, and a tour and tasting at Old Dominick distillery, all generously sponsored by ECP University/Essilor.

The highlight of the conference was the announcement of OAA’s National Optician Initiative. Established in 1926 as the Guild of Prescription Opticians, the OAA is the only national organization representing opticians’ business, professional, educational, legislative and regulatory interests. Find more on this important initiative in May Pro to Pro.

Initiative goal: Institute a new category of optician, known as a National Optician, which demonstrates that this group of opticians has reached the same testing competency as all other opticians in this category, regardless of state licensure status. The National Optician Initiative is designed to create a high level of competency for the profession nationwide.

Jobson Optical Group is excited to announce 20/20 Pro to Pro as the new OAA media partner. Deborah Kotob, Director of Education for 20/20 Magazine shown here with the OAA social media wizard Moses Nawlo, states: “We are proud to work with the OAA and appreciate the legislative work that they do on behalf of opticians nationwide. The OAA has created an association that brings together optical charities, optical education, optical state associations, optical vendors, students, apprentices and opticians, the ABO-NCLE and industry leaders for a wonderful conference where we meet, learn and collaborate on ways to make our field better.”

During a general session, attendees learned about how to engage and connect on social media. Get your phone out now and follow Pro to Pro,, and, and do the same for the OAA. State societies, are you active on social media? Do you have pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter? Actively post on your page and invite your followers to “like” and “follow.”

Join the other attendees and me for Leadership 2020. The location is to be determined—stay tuned via social media and reserve mid-February 2020 for Leadership!