Southern College of Optometry Wraps Up $9.4 Million Expansion

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

Construction and renovations are nearly complete at Southern College of Optometry, which is wrapping up a $9.4 million expansion.

The optometry school will hold a formal dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new academic classroom complex on Friday, Oct. 4, at 12:30 p.m. The ceremony will follow Southern College of Optometry’s all-school convocation at 10 a.m. That celebration honors the achievements of alumni, students, faculty and staff, while welcoming first-year students to the profession with the annual white coat ceremony.

The new academic classroom complex is geared toward tech-savvy students and also brings the faculty in closer proximity to first- and second-year students, says Jim Hollifield, director of communications at Southern College of Optometry.

New classrooms are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including a video system that records each lecture so that students can replay the lectures when they are studying.

“It’s especially helpful if they miss a lecture because they are sick,” Hollifield explained. “It’s a pretty robust lecture capture system – they can search by keyword. The lecture room is also wired with microphones so that the system also captures questions that are being asked.”

A grand atrium connects the old distinctive tower with the new renovated classroom spaces and adds about 23,000 square feet of new space behind the college’s 11-story tower. New preclinical labs replicate the same type of equipment that students will use when they begin practicing optometry outside of the school, including electronic health records.

The new classrooms are designed with flexible walls that can be opened for larger seminar lectures. There are also plenty of spaces for breakout sessions and small group study.

“We’ve learned the millennial generation really craves that one-on-one contact,” Hollifield said.

The school has been around since 1932 and remains one of only 21 optometry schools in the U.S. The new renovations are key to continuing to draw the best and brightest students, Hollifield said.

“For a long time, we were able to thrive and be successful by the students simply coming to us,” he said, explaining that renovations will help Southern College of Optometry retain its spot as a top optometry school choice.

Currently, the school draws students from 29 states.

“We’ve always been open to the public, but in the last few years we’ve really realized we needed to broaden our outreach beyond campus,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot more community outreach, including partnering with organizations like the Memphis Zoo and the Grizzlies to hold health fairs and screenings. We’ve found innovative ways to promote good eye care.”