Crystal Sin’s goal is to become an optometrist, and Western University of Health Sciences has been there to offer support, guidance and training every step of the way.

Sin was first introduced to science and medicine – and the WesternU campus – when she enrolled in the Pomona Health Career Ladder (PHCL) as a Palomares Academy of Health Sciences student. She came to Saturday PHCL sessions for six years and learned a variety of concepts related to health, science and disaster preparedness from WesternU students in the Pipeline program.

“Pomona Health Career Ladder was extremely helpful in paving a path by informing me about the background and responsibilities of various health professions,” Sin said. “The PHCL program inspired me to pursue optometry.”

She added, with a smile, “Dissecting a cow eye piqued my interest in optometry.”

She graduated from Palomares as valedictorian in 2015. Now a junior at Pitzer College, she returned to WesternU in summer 2017 as part of the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP).

Sin is one of two students who graduated from PHCL and completed the six-week SHPEP program at WesternU. Genna Hampton, a junior at the University of La Verne, also completed the program.

SHPEP encourages underrepresented students to enter health professions. WesternU was one of 13 institutions nationwide that hosted the program.

Sin’s journey of struggling with vision started early: She’s needed glasses since first grade. She never experienced clear vision until she was a sophomore in high school, when she was properly prescribed new glasses.

She said that before getting new glasses she needed help to see the chalkboard, and asked friends and teachers to help her with notes and navigating campus.

“When I got my new prescription, I was really surprised how everything was so much clearer. It really amazed me that this was what normal people see on a daily basis,” Sin said. “I’d never seen to that extent until the 10th grade. I thought this was a life-changing event because from then on I was able to stand up for myself a little bit more and be more independent.”

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Palomares Principal and PHCL Director Dr. Camille Ramos-Beal said the work she does for the school and the program has been

symbiotic, because it helps support the local community by providing resources, activities, and opportunities for young people to pursue their interests in the health sciences and medical fields.

“I believe that through the connections and opportunities at Palomares and PHCL, Crystal was engaged with WesternU and industry partners in a way that other traditional high school settings are not able to,” Dr. Ramos-Beal said. “I am looking forward to the ways that our organizations will continue to cultivate and develop the talent that is in our community. As William Butler Yeats said, ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’

“By offering different opportunities to our students, we stoke student interest to grow into passion,” she added.

Sin said Ramos-Beal always supported her in her scientific pursuits, and kept her informed about health-related events.

“She introduced me to the PHCL and the SHPEP program. Without her guidance, I am not sure I would be standing where I am today,” Sin said.

In 2015, Sin interned in an optometry office in Chino, California ­– at Drs. Hensen & Perlman Optometry – under the guidance of Roberta Perlman, DO, FAAO, who also is vice president of the Pomona Unified School District Board of Trustees. Sin trained WesternU College of Optometry student Jennifer Huynh, who was on rotation, to use the electronic health record program to input patient information. They keep in touch regularly and Sin sees her as a mentor.

“Jennifer inspires me to keep pursuing optometry by providing insight and advice on how to approach the applications for optometry school and what the academic lifestyle of an optometry student is like,” Sin said.

Sin said she attended SHPEP to increase her knowledge of health sciences and engage with a cadre of health professions students, WesternU faculty and other prospective medical students. In doing so she learned about Interprofessional Education, a foundational experience for WesternU students that teaches them how to work as part of a cohesive health care team. She said the interdisciplinary health care working environment she was exposed to will strengthen her character to better serve her future patients.

WesternU hosted the SHPEP program thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. WesternU matched funding to cover the cost for students. SHPEP provided opportunities for rising college sophomores and juniors interested in medicine and dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, nursing, physician assistant and other health professions.

“Students of Crystal’s generation are the future of health care,” said WesternU Associate Vice Provost of Academic Development Elizabeth Rega, PhD. “WesternU introduced SHPEP Scholars to our very best faculty, who themselves crafted an intensive, case-based interprofessional program. For most students, this was a transformative experience.”

Students attending WesternU SHPEP came from across the United States. Of the 80 undergraduate students, 40 percent were from the Southwest, including California, Arizona and Hawaii. Texas, New York and North Carolina contributed the greatest numbers of non-regional students. More than 73 percent were female; one-third of the students self-identified as Latino, one-quarter as African-American.  

College of Optometry Associate Professor Tiffenie Harris, OD, FAAO, who teaches diagnostic procedures to WesternU students during second-year curriculum, helped teach the optometry rotation to SHPEP students and had Sin during the first-week rotation.

Harris was excited to learn that Sin is eager to become an optometrist because WesternU has an excellent program available to her in her hometown.

“It’s an exceptional chance for her to get to know faculty that could be her future instructors down the road,” Harris said. “I also think this is a wonderful opportunity for her to engage with current WesternU and SHPEP students. She will experience what student life is like on campus as well as see the caliber and quality of the great people we look for (as applicants to the college).”

As a first-generation student, Sin said WesternU helped shape her interest in the medical field, inspiring her to pursue her dreams of becoming an optometrist helping children with vision problems.

“I want to be an optometrist so that I can provide patients from all cultural backgrounds and financial statuses the sight to see the world with eyes unclouded,” Sin said.