The Ohio State University Alumni Association

An Ohio State alumnus and former faculty member has remained involved with his alma mater and continues to pay forward.

Robert Newcomb

With two degrees from Ohio State, a professor emeritus title and years of volunteer service to the university, it’s not hard to see how retired faculty member Robert Newcomb earned the nickname “Buckeye Bob.”

The College of Optometry alum served as an optometrist in the Navy during the Vietnam War and later as a faculty member at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. But he couldn’t stay away from the Buckeye community for long—he returned to Columbus in 1980 to work as an optometrist in the local VA clinic and eventually joined Ohio State’s faculty.

Now retired, he volunteers on multiple committees in the College of Optometry and recently authored Our History in Focus — The First 100 Years of The Ohio State University College of Optometry to celebrate the college’s centennial. Ohio State’s colleges of Medicine and Nursing also are celebrating centennials this year.

Although he is well known at the college for the impact he has had in his career and volunteer work, Newcomb insists volunteering has had the greatest impact on him.

What is your favorite memory from your time at Ohio State?

The College of Optometry is one of the smallest colleges on campus, and we have a family relationship with the faculty, staff and students. When I would lecture or have students in clinic, I would say to them, “You’re going to be my colleague one day.” Those friendships are what make the college so special. 

How did you stay involved with the university as an alumnus?

I guess it started when I invited students to rotate through my VA clinic, and I also gave guest lectures at that time. In 1997, I retired from the VA and I was appointed to the faculty here. So the last 15 years of my career was as a professor of clinical optometry. And that was a dream come true, because then I could teach the students not only in the clinic but also in the classroom. 

Are you still involved today?

Oh, yes. It just so happens that 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the College of Optometry … and so I put together (a book on) the first 100 years’ history.

It’s a great story to tell, and a lot of it is volunteerism. Optometry has a history of volunteering. 

Why is volunteerism important to you?

Number one, it makes me a better optometrist to get out of my day-to-day practice and interact with other people who care about the profession and the university. Secondly, I think I have some unique experiences to share because of my military service, my graduate degree in public health and the unique opportunities I’ve had. Third, the people who went before me were volunteers. As Woody used to say, you can’t pay back, but you can pay forward. I think if you were to talk with any Ohio State optometrist, they’re all involved. Finally, I would just say it’s fun — the people you meet, the opportunities you have. As much as you volunteer, you always get more in return.

If students or alumni asked you why they should volunteer, how would you respond?

Because it keeps you connected with your alma mater. Regardless of your profession, when you leave your daily job and work to make the world a better place, it ingrains in you Ohio State’s motto: Education for citizenship. I love that motto. And hopefully when you’re a student here you do get involved … so you understand even as a student, that having a degree from this wonderful university has prepared you to serve a greater good. 


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