While completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Zoltoski fell in love with research. Her early experiences in sleep anatomy research led her to pursue a PhD in pharmacology and neurosciences at Wake Forest University. In her postdoctoral training positions at University of California, San Diego, and Brock University, she realized she wanted a career where she could combine teaching and research. She came to ICO in 1997 to teach biochemistry, with courses in neuroanatomy and evidence-based health care to be added later. She also has established an active research laboratory working with clinicians on a wide variety of topic ranging from dry eye to vision therapy. Her main focus has been changes in lens ultrastructure with age and accommodation, for which she has received federal funding to pursue this research. Her background has provided her with the training necessary to add this important component to ICO. She has been fortunate enough to mentor more than 100 students, and feels that her research is successful today in large thanks to the excellent clinicians as well as her students at ICO.
My transition to ICO was a rough one. I had never done any teaching or research related to the eye and felt as if I had landed in a foreign country without really knowing the language. When I was hired to teach biochemistry, I was not even confident I knew why optometrists needed to know biochemistry. By the end of my first week here, I had learned why they needed to know it, but it took me a bit longer to be able to convey those important ideas to the students. At the end of my second year, I was given the opportunity to attend a course designed to assist medical educators in becoming better instructors. I turned my course on its head, and I finally enjoyed teaching by using cases to help the students see the value of what they were learning. About the same time, I was fortunate to find some colleagues in the Chicago lens research community to accept me into their lab and my research found a new meaning as well. More recently, I have been able to bring some of that research back into ICO so that I am now more able to combine my research and teaching, as I set out to do so many years ago.
Students at ICO have not only the educational/clinical community to gain experiences from, but they also have the larger Chicago community. ICO offers programs that strive to increase cultural awareness and diversity within the school and the clinic, as well as vision screenings, health clinics, and tutoring programs that allow the students to reach out to our neighbors in Bronzeville, as well as across the Chicagoland area. It is the diversity, not only in our clinic, but also in our student body, that makes ICO an unending educational experience.