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Grateful ‘pioneer’ establishes scholarship to help today’s Brandeis students

Eva Beller '56 with Mia Salimbene, MS '13, the inaugural Eva Fischer Beller '56 Scholar

By Kerri Farrell

When Eva Fischer Beller ’56 first arrived on the Brandeis campus with 120 other freshmen, she found mud, construction and a pervasive feeling of excitement. “We felt like pioneers,” she says.  “We were pioneers.”

Attracted to the challenge of attending a new school with few alumni, the 17-year-old decided to leave her New York home and attend the new Jewish-sponsored school in Waltham. While her parents, who were Holocaust survivors, had always been “overprotective,” they permitted her to leave when they learned of Brandeis’ commitment to diversity and social justice.

When Eva graduated, Brandeis consisted of three buildings; now, she claims that she needs a guided tour of its 235 acres and 100 structures. Despite the sweeping transformation of the campus since graduation, time has done little to alter Eva’s connection to her alma mater. “At my 55th Reunion (in 2011),” she says, “I liked the feeling of warmth and community at Brandeis, and I decided I wanted to do something personal for the school.” In an instance of serendipity, Eva discovered that there was a new graduate program in her own career field. She decided to establish the Eva Fischer Beller ’56 Endowed Scholarship in Genetic Counseling.

Eva’s entry into genetics was largely coincidental. She embarked upon a job search when her third son started kindergarten. The daughter of a doctor, she had always been attracted to medicine, but felt that a career as a physician would take her away from her family. One day she came across an article in the New York Times about the burgeoning field of genetic counseling, and thought to herself, “This is the solution.” Within three years, she had earned her MS from Sarah Lawrence College.

During her 30-year career, she relished the opportunity to work with low-income, minority and new immigrant families. “What I really enjoyed was sitting down and explaining something very complicated in a simple way, which people appreciated because the information was so complex,” she says. “Most new immigrants or those with limited educations are too intimidated to tell someone they don’t understand; they smile and nod. The challenge was to help them feel comfortable asking questions.”

Today, Eva still works part time amidst several pursuits. She volunteers for the Women’s Prison Association as a mentor for incarcerated women; spends time with her 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; and travels with her husband, Sam, a financial consultant and chair of the Brooklyn College Foundation’s Planned Giving Committee. For the Bellers, giving back to one’s alma mater is a family value.

Although she was pleased to endow a scholarship in her own field, Eva feels a strong affinity to the entire University. When she visits Brandeis, she enjoys seeing old friends and the diversity of the students. “Now it’s a home for people from all over the world,” she says. Looking to support the school “in any way she can,” Eva has created her own legacy: as a philanthropist, as a genetic counselor and as Brandeis pioneer.

Date: January 22, 2014