When Jen Hyde visited her local optical shop to order new prescription lenses for her children, out of curiosity, she asked what they did with the old lenses. “When they told me they threw them away, I was aghast,” she says.
Having served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, the Newton resident vividly remembers how difficult it was for impoverished people to access healthcare, let alone eyewear. Jen began to research vision-correction in developing countries and devise ways to provide impoverished people with donated frames and lenses. She volunteered on an eye care mission to Haiti, providing free screenings and eyewear. She also collected donated eyewear in her local community as part of the Lions Club.“If you’re a seamstress in a poor village and cannot see well enough to thread a needle, you cannot earn a livelihood,” she says. “When a student can’t see the blackboard, it impedes their ability to get a quality education. Eyeglasses are incredible health instruments that can improve the lives of people around the world.”While in Haiti, Jen realized she wanted to gain more education and expertise in the optical field. She found Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology’s Opticianry program through an online search, and immediately contacted Blair Wong, chair of BFIT’s Eye Health Technology Department. She sat in on some classes and was instantly hooked.
"Turns out, this has been an incredible experience, and in some ways, the richest academic experience of my life. This college really cares about seeing the students succeed." — Jen Hyde
Yet, the 54-year old stay-at-home mom enrolled at the college with some hesitancy. First, she
had no technical experience in the optical field and her background was in solid waste and recycling, having earned a Master Degree in Urban Planning. She was ready to re-enter the workforce, but the thought of going back to school with young people made her wonder.
“Turns out, this has been an incredible experience, and in some ways, the richest academic experience of my life,” she says. “This college really cares about seeing the students succeed. In other institutions, they’re more interested in doing research or being quoted in the New York Times. Learning about how the eye works, and the optical instruments is so incredibly interesting.”
Next May, Jen along with many of her classmates will receive her Associate Degree in Opticianry. She says the field of opticianry is a perfect fit for working adults who are seeking a career change. “It’s physically less demanding, offers good pay, and it’s a people-centric career,” she says. “There is a hands-on component. You’re not just sitting all day.”
BFIT’s flexible schedule, evening courses, small classes, and high job placement rate, were important factors in her decision. So far, Jen’s career trajectory looks very bright. Shortly after enrolling, she landed a temporary position at Charles River Community Health Center in Brighton, fitting people for glasses and contact lenses. “My classes at BFIT helped me tremendously in the field, and likewise the job experience has benefitted me with my studies.”
After graduating, she aims to work at a community health center or non-profit organization that provides healthcare development or vision correction services in third world countries. “How can we collect frames and lenses and distribute them in a robust way to people who really need them?” she asks. “I feel that this career will open new doors.”