WesternU College of Optometry Founding Dean Elizabeth Hoppe, OD, MPH, DrPH, hired her first faculty member, Daniel Kurtz, OD, about a month after her first day on the job. They had worked together for four years at the New England College of Optometry in Boston, where Kurtz was a tenured professor and Hoppe was the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.

“We worked closely in the areas of clinical education, curriculum, and faculty development there, so I knew that he was passionate about these important topics,” Hoppe said. “We were very, very fortunate to have time before our students arrived in August 2009 to work on the requirements for accreditation, to develop the first draft of the curriculum, to do student recruitment, to cultivate supporters, sponsors and donors, and to recruit a cadre of dedicated faculty members. We were also deeply engaged in the plans for constructing and equipping the educational spaces in the Health Education Center and in the patient care spaces in the PCC.”

Kurtz retired in July 2018 after serving the College and WesternU for 11 years. He is now a Professor and Associate Dean of Optometry Emeritus.

Kurtz established many of the College’s founding policies and procedures; had the vision for the first curriculum; worked hard to incorporate a commitment to interprofessional education; embraced neuro-optometric rehabilitation (which was an emerging field at the time of the College founding); and interviewed and participated in hiring decisions for every faculty member. He also supported every grant application, spent countless hours counseling with students and employees and attended a never-ending series of meetings, Hoppe said.

“He was the number one cheerleader for our program from its founding,” she said.

Starting a new optometry school was exciting and rare – the U.S. has only 23 optometry schools and colleges.

“We knew that we were ‘living the dream’ at the time we were making it happen,” Hoppe said. “I wanted Dr. Kurtz to be part of it because he was a consummate educator and experienced researcher. He loved everything about teaching and working with students, and he loved supporting faculty members and helping them grow. He was committed to supporting the highest accomplishments in research always striving for the ‘gold ring’ of NIH funding.”

Kurtz never lost focus on why he was here. One day he was deep in discussion with Hoppe when he stopped and announced he had to leave.

“I have to meet with my boss,” he said, which was news to Hoppe since on paper she was his boss.

“He explained to me that he had to go meet with a student, and no matter what I thought, his ‘real boss’ was every student enrolled in our program,” Hoppe said.