You are here

A scholarship to honor science — and sports

For decades, Hopkins lacrosse loomed large in biology professor emeritus Maurice Bessman’s lab. A recent gift in Bessman’s name from a grateful alumnus will sustain his support for Blue Jay student-athletes for decades more
Posted September 8, 2016
(l-r) Corie Hoffberger, Mike Engler, Zita and Maurice Bessman, Dalia Engler, and Grant Kelly before the 2016 Alumni Weekend lacrosse game. (l-r) Corie Hoffberger, Mike Engler, Zita and Maurice Bessman, Dalia Engler, and Grant Kelly before the 2016 Alumni Weekend lacrosse game.

In the frigid moments before the Hopkins men's lacrosse team faced off against Ohio State in the 2016 Alumni Weekend game, Maurice Bessman, a professor emeritus of biology, received a surprise. Mike Engler, PhD (A&S '78), A&S '73, a former student Bessman hadn't seen in about two decades, had traveled from Texas to meet with him. He told Bessman that he and his wife, Dalia, had made a gift to the Department of Athletics, establishing a scholarship in his name to benefit the men's lacrosse team.

"You could have knocked me over with a feather. I didn't expect that at all!" Bessman says. "I still can’t believe it."

An athletics scholarship named for a science professor? It may sound unusual — until you understand Bessman's passion for Blue Jay lacrosse and the game's role in the life of his lab, where Engler worked as a doctoral student.

Bessman was a dedicated scientist and an engaged mentor who would read his students' notebooks early each morning, Engler says. He'd often leave some encouraging or instructive notes in the margins about the students' experiments before they arrived.

"We, of course, worked hard in the lab," Engler says, "but if it was Saturday, and there was a lacrosse game, he'd host a tailgate party and we'd all go to the game together."

Bessman's love of the game sprang from convenience. As a young Hopkins professor who lived near campus, he and his wife, Zita, took advantage of lacrosse games as inexpensive entertainment for their family; while their parents enjoyed the game, the four young Bessmans could play on a set of jungle bars across from the field. Eventually, Maurice Bessman forged a close friendship with then-head coach Bob Scott, began traveling to Blue Jay games on the road, and served as Hopkins' NCAA faculty representative for several years.

"Hopkins lacrosse became a huge part of my life, and I'm still a die-hard fan," Bessman says.

The Bessman lab's lacrosse gatherings provided a much-needed lifeline for Engler when he graduated from Hopkins and took a postdoctoral research position at Harvard Medical School. The Harvard lab was a pressure cooker, Engler recalls, and opportunities for true relaxation around Boston were few.

"It was important for me, every now and again, to have an excuse to get out of town. My best excuse was to come back to Hopkins, visit the lab, and hang out with Bessman at the lacrosse game," Engler says.

After Harvard, Engler went on to run his own lab in Texas and later took over his family's business. Along the way, he lost touch with Bessman — something he long regretted. So when Hopkins approached him with a chance to support student-athletes and also thank his mentor by naming a scholarship for him, he gladly took it.

"I felt this was something I should have done earlier," Engler says. "It's an honor to be part of something that honors him."

Bessman, who has enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with his former student, is grateful that his name will be associated with a powerful tool that will strengthen the men's lacrosse program by opening doors for deserving student-athletes.

"When I was a freshman adviser, years ago, I had a number of lacrosse players. They'd come in so green and unpolished — and over the years, you'd see them develop athletically, of course, but also personally and academically," Bessman says. "A scholarship gives these young men a chance to attend a world-class university. And with the team's high graduation rate, it gives them a great chance to graduate from one. To have this in my name, I'm very proud."

To learn more about how you can make a gift to support Hopkins student-athletes, please contact Grant Kelly.