When Sopheak Tang was a Danbury High School student, he had a part-time job working as a lab tech at Lenscrafters grinding lenses. After he graduated in 2001, he began to pursue a four-year computer science degree at the University of Connecticut.
Sopheak continued working while attending UConn. However, since he enjoyed his job so much, he started to look for an opticianry program in Connecticut. His co-workers told him about Middlesex Community College, telling him only good things about the highly regarded program there. Plus, it is the only program in the state and of only two in New England.
By this time Sopheak’s family had moved to Waterbury, so he transferred UConn credits and enrolled as a full-time student in the ophthalmic design and dispensing program at Middlesex. He also continued working part-time.
He described the OD&D program as intense. He had to learn concepts in physics, math and eye anatomy—things he didn’t necessarily learn at the job. Sopheak said the curriculum also emphasizes the business side of the industry—the corporate standard of care from a doctor’s perspective.
Sopheak especially liked the classes learning about contact lenses. He said Skip Rivard and Ray Dennis, now retired professors of the program, became mentors to him.
“Skip Rivard taught me about therapeutic specialty contact lense fitting, especially in patients with keratoconus and traumatic injuries, and how to determine when they need soft or hard contacts,” Sopheak explained.
Another Middlesex highlight for him was Eyecare Day, an annual event held pre-pandemic, when students provided exams and glasses for people in the community.
As a determined student, Sopheak’s best memories are working in the labs and cutting lenses, though it could get messy at times, he said. He does recall fun times at the college, too, like a breakdancing event that took place regularly on campus.
Sopheak graduated with an associate degree in 2007 and became a licensed optician. He continued working, first at Bristol Eye Associates in their optical department. This involved measuring and fitting eyewear, frame selections, filling orders including contacts and dispensing eyewear. He later moved to Wallingford and went on to work for optometrist practices, where he managed optical department and continued fitting lenses and dispensing.
Professor Rivard helped Sopheak network with professionals in the industry over the years, connecting him with doctors as he progressed in his career. This ultimately prompted him to establish his own business in 2023.
“I enjoyed my experiences at Middlesex. I met great friends in and outside of the industry and keep in touch with them and the professors,” said Sopheak. “The program was great before—and now with Aarlen (Aceto) and Bryan (Goh). I’m glad for the path of going to school rather than working as an apprentice under an optician.”
He still visits the Middlesex campus to participate in continuing education (CE) activities and state licensing requirements.
One day he might complete a four-year business degree.
“Coming out of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but now I know I just want to help people to see,” Sopheak said.
Written by Thea Moritz