A Sit Down – with Kelin Kushin

This post appears as part of a series called Sit Down – candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.

A Sit Down – with Kelin Kushin


For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry? 

My current role is Executive Director of the Optometric Extension Program Foundation—commonly referred to as OEP or OEPF. I’ve been an employee of OEP since 2010 and I worked on special projects for them on a contract basis for many years before that. Before being appointed Executive Director, I served as the Managing Editor of Optometry & Visual Performance and before that I was the production editor of the Journal of Behavioral Optometry. I also wore (and still do) the hat of Student Services Coordinator for OEP. It’s common with small nonprofits that staff and volunteers wear many hats!

My educational background includes an undergraduate degree in English (focus on technical writing and editing), Art, and History as well as a master’s degree in English Rhetoric (focus on political rhetoric, persuasion, and linguistics). I’ve also earned a certificate in Non-Profit Management from UtahValleyUniversity which included courses pertinent to my role as Executive Director. 

How did you first hear of Developmental Optometry? 

Knee-jerk response, “In the womb!”

Really, I have been around Optometry my entire life. My father is an Optometrist practicing in Cincinnati, Ohio and my mother serves as the Vision Therapist in their office. I literally grew up in the VT room– I was a patient, of course, but I also helped out in the therapy room and main office extensively.  Because of this unique situation, I was always somehow aware that my performance (on the basketball court, in the classroom, in learning to ride a bike, etc.) was related to my visual performance—not necessarily my visual acuity.

I was there in the VT room when kids were falling off the walking rail one week and then gliding across it confidently a few weeks later. I was also there to witness the same kids slowly develop appreciation for humor and jokes that they never had before. I witnessed them come in with stories of making new friends, learning to tie shoes, ride bikes, and read books. I watched children of all kinds, with any number of diagnoses (as well as those with hardly any), blossom! I witnessed MANY changes they experienced as a result of their lenses, or vision therapy, or the combination. We also rejoiced with adults who never thought they would be able to drive were finally able to pass a driving test. I needed no convincing (nor did I know anyone else would need convincing) that absolutely anyone and everyone could benefit from lenses and/or vision therapy.

Optometry for me always meant being able to see the whole court and all my teammates, handling ever-changing situations, being flexible, adaptable, etc. In fact, I never knew what my acuity, my prescription, or my diagnosis was growing up. I realized that somehow what I did in the VT room played a part in helping me parallel park a car, learn to water ski, enjoy roller-coasters, be a better basketball player, etc. I never knew otherwise—and I definitely (at that age) couldn’t fathom that others didn’t have the same experience that I did.

In addition, I was also a “meeting rat” from a young age—I routinely attended the Kraskin Invitational Skeffington Symposium on Vision (KISS) in the DC area as well as the Mid Atlantic Congress of Optometry in Pittsburgh. I also attended study group get-togethers and a couple COVD meetings as a youngster. I specifically remember one COVD meeting in Orlando where I managed to collect some great autographs in my Disney autograph book…Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Bob Kraskin, Cinderella, Sidney Cohen…all “the greats” 🙂 I was routinely interacting with my father’s colleagues and have continued to do so my entire life. Some of the best people I have known were Optometrists who I had the privilege of knowing from a young age.

What is OEPF?

OEPF stands for the Optometric Extension Program Foundation. The Optometric Extension Program Foundation  is a non-profit (501c3) organization dedicated to the dissemination of information about vision and the visual process. OEPF was originally founded in 1928 by AM Skeffington and EB Alexander with the purpose of providing continuing education for optometrists throughout the United States. Today, OEPF still provides post-graduate continuing education but our programs and services now have a worldwide reach.  OEPF actually offers more continuing education hours annually than any other optometric organization of its kind. In addition to our flagship courses, we also sell products and materials, maintain archives of historical research and information, publish professional publications, jointly publish the journal Optometry & Visual Performance, coordinate and facilitate seminars and congresses of Optometry, and provide informational programs and opportunities to optometry students. 

Bob Williams served as OEP’s Executive Director for many years and is greatly revered within the community of Developmental Optometry. With Bob’s recent retirement, might you reflect on his legacy at OEP? 

Many readers who know Bob will find it fitting that I first met Bob at a major league baseball game. I was maybe 10 or 12 and he came with my father and me to a Reds game at Riverfront Stadium. I always remembered who he was because of his hobby—“collecting” ball parks. That was a pretty cool hobby, in my opinion. I’ll never forget the game, Marge Schott was the team owner back then and she had large St. Bernard dogs that she’d bring everywhere. One was just a puppy at the time and it ran out onto the field and pooped in left field! We still laugh at the memory. Bob has spent numerous hours with me over the years sharing OEP history—anyone who knows him knows his knack for sharing history! I’m not sure if he knows how much it’s valued and appreciated.

In all seriousness, OEP has been in existence for 85 years and Bob served as the Executive Director for 30 of those years. He became the face of OEP. During those years, Bob (and his wife, Leslie) traveled the US and the world as an ambassador for Optometry. He paved the way for so many important events, collaborations, and lasting relationships.  He was recognized for his contribution and commitment to the profession with an honorary degree awarded by Southern College of Optometry in 2010.   Bob made OEP his life’s work and continues to support and advise us. I am humbled by the opportunity to take on the job of Executive Director and support the legacy of OEP and continue Bob’s lifelong commitment to Optometry.

What are the benefits of enrollment in OEP? 

The tangible benefits of enrolling in OEP as a Clinical Associate are many—but the intangible benefits are especially worth mentioning. OEP serves as a way for people to support and be active in the profession. When you enroll in OEP, you become a part of an Optometric community—some might even call it a family—of thousands of individuals around the world. And in order to make that meaningful, OEP offers myriad opportunities for you to connect with these colleagues and build lifelong friendships and professional relationships with them. We also offer multiple options for charitable giving if one should choose to support the Foundation’s efforts in that way. It’s a great way to celebrate milestones, recognize a mentor, or pay tribute to someone. These donations help fund student and resident travel grants, OEP course scholarships, research grants, and more. Without the support of our Clinical Associates the rich network they are a part of would not be as far-reaching or as active as it currently is!

As far as tangible benefits go, all OEP Clinical Associates receive quarterly publications that are included in their enrollment fee. This year (2013) these publications include:

  • “Overlooked: 20/20 Is Not Enough” by Arthur Seiderman, OD
  • “Dear Jillian: Vision Therapy Changed My Life Too!” by Robin and Jillian Benoit
  • “Perspectives on Vision IV: Selected Papers on Myopia”
  • Heritage Series DVD: Interview with Dr. Nat Flax

Note that not all of these have been released yet but this is our list of quarterly publications for OEP Clinical Associates during the 2013 enrollment cycle. The publications, as you can see, are on a variety of select topics.  Last year, the enrollment benefit publications included a monograph by Dr. Len Press titled “Parallels Between Auditory and Visual Processing” as well as a book by Dr. Bill Padula and colleagues titled “Neuro-Visual Processing Rehabilitation: An Interdisciplinary Approach.” These titles are often alone worth the annual enrollment fee.

In addition to the quarterly publications, OEP also manages a robust international “find a doc” feature on the website. All of our Clinical Associates are listed and searchable on this Google Map feature. You can search by location as well as by name. This has proven a helpful referral tool for colleagues as well as the general public to utilize. Because we are an international organization we have many inquiries for finding Optometrists in all corners of the globe. Associates have commented that the referrals they’ve received from the OEP “Find a Doc” map have more than paid for their enrollment fee in the organization.

Further, all OEP Clinical Associates receive valuable discounts on registration for the OEP Clinical Curriculum courses, OEP Regional Clinical Seminars, OEP Regional Congresses, and our International Congress of Behavioral Optometry.  We also have special pricing on certain OEP products or special associate-only discounts. Some new benefits this year include the ability to pay for OEP enrollment using your HOYA Honors Points. You can ask your local HOYA rep for details about that program. We have also negotiated some new special discounts from industry supporters that will be made available this year, so watch for those!

All OEP Clinical Associates are also automatically signed up to receive our exclusive email communications as well as a quarterly mailed newsletter called Trackings. These serve to keep the community informed about OEP events, new publications, and new products. This includes an email notification corresponding to the release of each new issue of the new journal, Optometry & Visual Performance (OVP) and its supplemental publication, Visual Performance Today (VP Today). These publications are brand new as of January 2013 and are the result of hard work and collaboration efforts between the AustralasianCollege of Behavioural Optometry (ACBO), COVD, and OEPF.

I should note that OEP enrollment is open to anyone—optometrists, therapists, residents, students, faculty, retirees, friends of the profession, etc. Students can actually enroll at no charge and receive our email notifications, journal notifications, and discounted or complimentary registration rates at OEP events.

As you can see, the benefits are numerous but time and time again, when we survey our associates, we hear that the most valuable part of being an OEP Clinical Associate is the camaraderie, the community, and the connection they have to the profession through us.

As the newly appointed Executive Director of OEP, where do you see the organization in years to come?

OEP has been around for 85 years. As people may know, many non-profits don’t survive once their founders leave the structure. Luckily, we have been blessed with very talented and passionate people (staff, board members, directors, donors, et al) who have been forward-thinking and who have built and planned for future growth and sustainability.

OEP Clinical Curriculum courses are reaching new locations each year—in 2013 we introduced courses to Mexico and India—and will continue to do so. We continue to strengthen our relationship with our international colleagues and organizations as well as Optometry schools around the world. Our unofficial motto is that “None of us is as smart as all of us” – we see that recognizing our strengths and the strengths of our partners is a key factor in getting things accomplished and really reaching more people and changing more lives.  We will continue to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. We will continue to make the technological changes needed to keep up with the digital, mobile, and social landscape. This will include webinars and online learning experiences. We will build on the current Skype events we do with students and bring things like that to more audiences. We will move toward making more publications available in eBook, audio book, or even podcast formats. Like the development of the online journal, which we began with the Journal of Behavioral Optometry back in 2011, we will explore new ways to deliver the information that people want and need in the ways they expect to be able to access it.

We have also, thanks to a generous donation from a private donor, been able to revitalize our new speaker development program for new/recent graduates or those seeking to develop better public speaking skills. The profession benefits when we have skilled people able to communicate effectively about what they do. We will be sending out more detailed information about the program in 2013.

The future is bright—not just for OEP, but for the profession as a whole. There is a great deal of enthusiasm and talent coming through the optometry schools right now. Organizations like OEP, NORA, COVD, and our international counterparts, ACBO, BABO, COMOF, BOAF, etc. are very important in giving people a way to support and advance the profession in meaningful ways. It’s exciting!

OEP’s website looks amazing and is a great resource for all.  Which features do OEP’s members find the most useful? 

Thanks, we switched over and did a redesign more than a year or so ago and we are actually still in the process of building out some of the planned features. The OEP website overall is very active…the online store, the Clinical Curriculum course section, the journal archives, the event calendar, and the “Find a Doc” locator are probably the most active sections currently. Those areas are accessed extensively on a daily basis.

OEP offers a Clinical Curriculum Series which the website describes as “a series of hands-on, small-group, post-graduate courses for optometrists and their staff.”  Can you tell us more about this? 

The OEP Clinical Curriculum consists of 4 core courses which are:

  • The Art & Science of Optometric Care: A Behavioral Perspective
  • Vision Therapy: Visual Dysfunctions
  • Vision Therapy: Learning Related Visual Problems
  • Vision Therapy: Strabismus & Amblyopia

These courses total well over 100 hours of CE. The Art &Science course is specifically for Optometrists while all the rest are open to Optometrists and therapists.  We also have additional courses which include:

  • Essentials of Behavioral Vision Care—this is open to all optometric office staff and is commonly attended by reception staff, opticians, therapists, scheduling staff, office managers, etc.
  • Foundation of Vision Therapy Course—the slogan for this course is “VT education for vision therapists, taught by vision therapists.”

And special topic supplemental courses covering topics such as:

  • Sports Vision
  • Traumatic/Acquired Brain Injury
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders

and more!

All of these courses are hands-on and highly interactive. The topics and procedures covered can be put into practice right away. The information is provided in an organized fashion and the unique thing about them is that course attendees are eligible for free ongoing case consultations with our instructors! Attendees are also given a wealth of materials and information including access to our Clinical Curriculum section of the website featuring videos for the activities that are covered in the courses, reading lists, reference lists, instruction sets, and more.

There is a lot more information about the courses on our website—including a “Should I take a Course?” page.

Who teaches the Clinical Curriculum courses and where are the courses held?

Current instructors include:

  • Steen Aalberg (Denmark)
  • Paul Harris (Memphis, Tennessee)
  • Robert Hohendorf (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
  • Robin Lewis (Chandler, Arizona)

We will also be welcoming John Abbondanza (Southboro, Massachusetts) on board starting in 2014.  He has been going through the instructor development process over the past couple years so many attendees have already been exposed to him as an instructor. We are always in the process of grooming new instructors, and it’s quite a process, but we are lucky to have some talented people!

The courses are held all over the world. We have some set sites where we book courses each year—Grand Rapids, Michigan; Chandler, Arizona; Memphis, Tennessee; Pomona, California; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; and two per year in Australia. We are also currently running courses each year regularly at sites in Canada. In addition to these static sites we also book as there is interest or need in other areas of the US and the world. We added Mexico and India to our list in 2013 but historically we have been to the UK, Switzerland, Greece, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, and Italy.

OEP has an office in Maryland that is dedicated to OEP education and they coordinate and schedule all the Clinical Curriculum courses. Our staff there, Karen and Theresa, can answer any and all questions about the courses and about bringing the courses to new locations!  They can be reached at: 410.561.3791.

I see the 7th International Congress of Behavioral Optometry listed on the OEP calendar of events. What is the focus of this event and what more can you tell us about it? 

The International Congress of Behavioral Optometry is best known as “ICBO” and it occurs every four years at sites around the world. The locations rotate between the US, Europe, and Australia. In 2014, the 7th ICBO will be held in Birmingham, England and is scheduled for September 11-14 with three special Pre-Conference seminars on September 9-10. This event is for everyone in the profession. Including students!

ICBO is a wonderfully unique meeting that celebrates the multidisciplinary and collaborative nature of the profession. It brings people together from many countries, many disciplines, many backgrounds, and many stages of their careers. It’s about building commonalities, making connections, working together, exploring new ideas, etc. This year we will be increasing the opportunity for students to attend by offering some travel grants for those coming from abroad but also by incorporating optometry students at Aston University’s School of Life & Health Sciences in Birmingham.

The theme of the 7th ICBO will be “Vision is the brain’s way of touching” which is a quote from the French philosopher, Maurice Merleau Ponty. This quote was called out by Alain Berthoz in his book, “The Brain’s Sense of Movement” and a statement we thought was exceptionally fitting. Especially because we are honored to have Alain Berthoz as our keynote speaker for the 7th ICBO!

A few specific details about the 7th ICBO here—

The Pre-Conference seminars being offered are:

  • OEP’s Regional Clinical Seminar, “The Principles of Prescribing”
  • BABO’s “Introduction to Behavioural Optometry” course
  • NORA’s “Skills Level 1” course

The main program will feature the following keynote speakers:

  • Alain Berthoz, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Physiology of Perception and Action at the College of France in Paris.
  • Janette Atkinson, Emeritus Professor of Psychology in the Visual Development Unit at UniversityCollege, London.
  • Richard Bruenech, PhD, Director of the Biomedical Research Unit and professor in ocular anatomy at BuskerudUniversityCollege in Norway

The general call for papers and posters went out a month or so ago and the deadline for submissions is December 1st, 2013. Full details about submitting papers and posters can be found at: www.oepf.org/CallForPapers. The educational program of each ICBO is a real highlight. Like the attendance, it includes speakers from all over the world working in various areas of the profession. It’s an unbelievable opportunity to see and hear what your colleagues are doing and experiencing! Watch for the official ICBO website launch coming in the next month or two as well as online registration and more program details.

The venue for the 7th ICBO is ideal for many reasons. We take great care in finding a venue that allows for our large number of attendees to be able to socialize, gather, and connect and join in the camaraderie. Of course, we like a venue that is convenient to a major airport, offers ample meeting space, exhibit space, dining options, and that is equipped and experienced in handling large conference events. Another thing we look for is a location that offers lots of opportunities for outings or activities. Many attendees bring family, spouses, and children along so we plan in activities they can take advantage of. Attendees will find that the venue, the Hilton Metropole at the BirminghamNationalExhibitionCenter, goes well beyond all of these pre-requisites.

Because of the international focus of the ICBO events, we will also put great effort into bringing in a diverse and international offering of exhibitors. This year we will put an unprecedented effort into our exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities. Attendees can count on finding the exhibit hall full of great exhibitors with products, information, and materials they can use in their practices. There will be a plethora of reading material, product demonstrations, show specials, door prizes, tourist information, and more. It’s a great opportunity to visit one on one with representatives from companies you previously only knew from online!

While OEPF is the main organizing entity behind all of the ICBO events, each is a wonderful team effort where we partner with other organizations to bring to reality.  The 7th ICBO is no exception. The local host of this event is the British Association of Behavioural Optometrists (BABO) and we are grateful for their efforts and their assistance in helping select an awesome venue, navigating unique contract items, and generally welcoming us all to their nook of the world! We also enjoy partnering with ACBO, NORA, BOAF, SIODEC, COMOF, etc. to bring these international meetings to fruition. Each of these organizations will have an official presence at the 7th ICBO.

As you can tell, I’m very excited about the International Congress of Behavioural Optometry. I have attended a couple previously, including the last one in 2010 which was in California, and they are so rewarding for so many reasons. I only wish we could host one every year!

OEP is widely known for educational support, both in teachings and materials. Since we now have a grasp on the teaching side, can you detail the available educational materials?

In addition to courses, seminars, and conferences, OEP is also known for the vast array of products and materials we produce and sell. We work with publishers and acquire the rights of texts that are now out of print so we can make them available again, we also work with authors to produce updated versions and new editions of classic works, etc. We also house a wonderful archive of historical materials—back issues of journals, newsletters, papers, event recordings, interviews, etc. We have plans to make these archives more accessible by cataloging them etc. Most of it has all been digitized but it still requires some clean-up or cataloging. Volunteers welcome!

We also produce a series of informational pamphlets for parents and patients that many practitioners use in their offices. This year we are starting to revise and update our whole series of pamphlets—we began already with the Parent’s Guide and Checklist which is now a convenient booklet. We are also in the process of updating the “Do you have a vision problem?” pamphlet at the moment. We thank our volunteers (Optometrists as well as parents!) who spend time editing and providing new text and photos for these pamphlets.

You can take a look at the OEP online store and see we also sell (and produce!) lots of products and equipment. Much of it is standard in any VT room. We also work with industry friends like GoodLite and Richmond Products to make new products available or figure out better ways to make classic equipment more modern. Other entities such as Bernell also carry some of our products and help get it out to more people. We have everything from Brock Strings to Readalyzers and if we don’t carry it we can direct you to the right place! All purchases made through OEP go directly toward supporting the mission of the Foundation…so your purchases with OEP are directly supporting Optometry.

Come October, COVD’s Annual Meeting is being held in Orlando at which OEP will have a booth in the Exhibit Hall.  What new and exciting ideas might we find this year?

OEP actually has 3 booths at the COVD Annual Meeting! It’s one of our favorite events of the year! We love the chance to connect with so many fellow exhibitors, friends, and colleagues. We also host an OEP Luncheon every year on the Saturday of the meeting. Tickets for that can be purchased through the COVD office. The most exciting thing this year is that we’ve just begun rolling out our new Optometrists Change Lives campaign that we’ve been privileged enough to have HOYA Vision Care partner with us on! Preliminary information went out last week in our annual enrollment renewal packages and we will continue to provide information about the campaign at many venues and via various media throughout the year. The broad mission of the campaign is to raise awareness about the many ways in which optometrists change lives. This campaign will raise much needed public awareness about the role of the optometrist in our overall medical wellbeing. The campaign includes a fundraising effort so meeting attendees will be able to stop by the OEP booth to learn more and make donations to the Optometrists Change Lives Fund. We should have some fun freebies on hand to pass out as well.

As part of some our first efforts under the new Optometrists Change Lives campaign, we held competitions at 8 optometry schools this year – with support from HOYA Vision Care and GoodLite – with the grand prize for the winner at each school being a $500 travel grant toward attending this COVD Annual Meeting. So we are excited to formally recognize those 8 students at our OEP Luncheon on the Saturday of the meeting. It’s important to be able to offer the opportunity for more students to attend this meeting and we’re thankful to our sponsors and private donors who contribute to make such things possible.

We also dedicate one of our booths each year to our Clinical Curriculum and Regional Clinical Seminars so attendees can count on being able to get information about those as well as register for upcoming offerings. All of our 2013 courses are actually sold out but we are taking registrations for 2014 courses and those are going to fill fast too. Karen and Theresa will both be there in person to answer any questions.

Another popular thing we do at the OEP booth is demonstrations of the Readalyzer. This is a great tool for any practice and we’ve found that a lot of docs and therapists find the demonstration helpful before making the purchase.

And, as always, we will have a selection of our publications, texts, reference materials, and products on hand for purchase there at the meeting. Our staff member in charge of all orders, enrollment, and product sales, Lisa McCluskey, will also be on hand at the booth to help attendees with their orders.

Some closing thoughts – A great thanks to Kelin for taking time out for this interview.  She clearly loves her job, and was a joy to collaborate with this week!  Anyone seeking more information about OEP can email Kelin at kelin.kushin@oep.org.  Please join me in wishing Kelin great success in her new position, and everyone at OEP the absolute best! 🙂


Posted on September 13, 2013, in Sit Downs. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Robert Hohendorf out of Grand Rapids….. do you have an email address for him, please? He has been recommended to me by Ed Roth, Director of Music Therapy from WMU-Kalamazoo. In my search for the best of the best music therapists in MI for my 42 year old daughter, just shy of 10 months post stroke. I would appreciate his email ASAP. thank you

    Fran Hetzner


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