On June 14, 2018, the Illinois College of Optometry concluded its Presidential Search. Having met with outstanding candidates from across the United States, the Board of Trustees announced their unanimous choice: that ICO’s sixth president would be Mark Colip, OD ’92. He officially took office on August 6, 2018.
Dr. Colip is new to the presidency, but not the institution. ICO is his alma mater, and prior to this new title, Dr. Colip was ICO’s Vice President for Student, Alumni, and College Development. In fact, he has worked on-campus for over 25 years, seeing the College through growth, change, and three previous presidents.
Lauren Faits, Editor-in-Chief of ICO Matters, spoke to Dr. Colip during the first week of his presidency. They candidly discussed family, how Dr. Colip found optometry, and his hopes and aspirations for the school he loves.
LF: “Dr. Colip, you grew up in a farming community and earned a degree in zoology. Some people might find that surprising. Tell me about life before optometry.”
MC: “My dad was from a farming family. He grew up milking dairy cows at 6 in the morning and 6 at night, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When I got my driver’s license, I would get up at 5 in the morning, drive a truck into Indianapolis, pick up 5 tons of feed, and drive it back to my dad’s store. Then, after school, I helped throughout the evening. My mom and dad were the hardest workers that I ever met.”
LF: “Does that mean your zoology degree was farm-related?”
MC: “Not at all. When I was in 6th grade, I read a book in the library. It had the Hippocratic Oath in the cover. It just spoke to me. So, from the time I was in 6th grade, my objective was to become a doctor. I applied for a job as an orderly at the local county hospital when I was 15. I took an EMT course when I was 17. I worked in the emergency room, got accepted to DePauw University, and got a scholarship to go there. DePauw University didn’t have a biology major at the time- it was zoology.
I did a one-month internship with a couple of family practice doctors in my hometown. They allowed me full access. I went to the hospital rounds, all that… but there was just frustration on their faces every day. I knew at the end of that month that I didn’t want to be a medical doctor. I was devastated.”
LF: “I understand. You’d been certain for so long. Where did optometry come in?”
MC: “I wanted to get examined for contact lenses. I was 20 years old, and I visited Daryl Hodges, OD ’77, in Greencastle, Indiana. I thought, ‘This is doctor stuff!’ I shadowed him and I fell in love with optometry. He talked about studying in Chicago in this place called Illinois College of Optometry. In my mind, I thought, ‘I don’t know if I want to do that, that’s in scary Chicago…’ He felt so passionately about optometry and ICO, he took the day off from his practice and drove me to Chicago to make sure I came here and interviewed.”
LF: “When you applied to optometry school, were you married?”
MC: “When I graduated from DePauw University (May 1985), I was offered a job to go back to Methodist Hospital and teach paramedics and emergency medicine. This was going to be a summer job, before I started at ICO.
Shortly after I started teaching though, I had a health issue arise. Reluctantly, I had to call ICO and give up my seat. What had started out as a summer job before starting at ICO, turned into three years while I worked through my health issue. It was the right thing to do at the time. Interestingly enough, it was during this ‘delay in my plans’ that I met my wife, working at the hospital. She was a brand-new nurse. I fell in love with her at first sight. February 7, 1986, I proposed to her… We got married June 7, 1986. So what started out as a delay in my plans, turned out to put me exactly where I needed to be.”
LF: “That same year??”
MC: “I knew what I wanted. We actually came to Chicago for Labor Day weekend for the Jazz Fest. We were standing in line at Uno’s Pizza, and I told her, ‘You’re going to marry me someday.’ She just laughed.
We both stayed and worked at Methodist Hospital for 3 years. My health improved. I studied and retook the OAT, but wondered, ‘What school is going to accept me?’ By the grace of God, ICO accepted me again.”
LF: “You were so busy as a young man. Were you a super-involved optometry student?”
MC: “No. I was going to be an 80-hour-a-week student; nothing but studying for me. I was mostly scared of failing, but at the same time, I was loving what was happening in class. It was everything I’d hoped and dreamed since 6th grade.”
LF: “It’s comforting to know that even you got scared sometimes. If you had a really tough day at ICO, what did you do to unwind?”
MC: “I played with my dogs. I took them for walks, would play ball with them almost every evening. Jan and I, frankly, would sit on the couch, hold hands, and watch TV. That was a big evening for us… You have to push back from the stress and the studying. Nobody can do this 24/7.”
LF: “When you graduated, did you immediately pursue academia?”
MC: “No. We’d actually decided by January of my 4th year that we were going to go to Michigan and I was going to buy into a practice there. Right about graduation time, the deal broke apart.”
LF: “How awful! So you had to salvage something pretty quickly?”
MC: “I worked for [Dr. John Gardner] most of my second year, and even into third year. His dad was an ICO alum. When the deal fell apart… I started working with [Dr. Gardner] right away.”