An Eye on Her Future
Lab Work, Activities Help Biology Graduate Prepare for Optometry Career
When Deidrie Briggs was in seventh grade, she was sure she had to decide on a career for the rest of her life. She’s explored a few other options since, but ended up sticking with her junior-high selection: optometry.
“Getting to know people in the community — I really like that aspect of being an optometrist,” she says. “You know your patients and your patients know you. You help them see the world more clearly.”
Briggs, a winner of the University of Idaho College of Science Dean’s Award, will graduate in May with a bachelor’s in biological sciences and minors in Spanish and pre-health professions studies, then head to Pacific University to earn her Doctor of Optometry.
Briggs, 22, has shaped her time at UI to support her dream. She built a foundation with classes such as anatomy and physiology, shadowed optometrists in Moscow and in her hometown of Marsing, and worked for three years in a UI lab that focuses on a critical structure in the eye.
Working with Peter Fuerst, an assistant professor of biology, Briggs studied the retina: the back part of the eyeball that contains light-sensing cells and connects to the brain via the optic nerve. Briggs and her colleagues study mice retinas to understand how the retina develops and how its different layers interact with each other. Her work included creating complex 3-D images of retinal neurons, giving researchers the ability to study their organization in detail.
“My lab experience helped prepare me so much,” she says. “The information you learn in a retina lab is much more in depth than what you learn in one or two weeks of anatomy classes.”
In addition to enhancing her studies, Briggs’ lab work provided her with skills such as organization, following procedure and carefully recording her work. It also gave her communication, teamwork and leadership skills — as did the abundance of other activities she is involved in at UI.
Briggs referees intramural basketball games, is part of the UI Student Foundation and is active in the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. She’s also a member of UI’s Pre-Health Club, where students who want to go into medical professions connect, have fun and volunteer on projects like blood and bone marrow drives. Pre-health professions advisor Liz Bryant praised Briggs for her focus, dedication and service to others, especially the assisted living facility residents Briggs helps through a summer vision-screening clinic.
“Deidrie’s face lights up when she speaks about her time spent working with these individuals, leaving no doubt that she has truly found her calling in life, and that she is going to be an exceptional optometrist,” Bryant says.
In winter 2014, Briggs’ UI adventure took her far from campus to Santa Julia, Nicaragua, where she was part of an Alternative Service Break team that helped a women’s coffee-production cooperative build a community porch for meetings, mobile health clinics and other events.
“The best part about it, other than working with the people in Santa Julia, was bonding with the other students and advisers,” Briggs says.
All these opportunities and experiences helped Briggs make new friends and find her place at UI. Coming from a small town, she wanted a college that was close to home and felt like home. She found it, and assures future Vandals that they can, too.
“Branch out. Don’t just focus on one aspect of the college career. Join multiple clubs that don’t have anything to do with each other. Get involved in things that are interesting, meet new people, form new connections and just have fun,” she says.
“All the people here are the same as in a small town. They’re caring, and they want to help you succeed. It’s always nice to have people who have your back.”
Article by Tara Roberts, University Communications & Marketing