Every summer since 1969, an international migration takes place as around 80 highly talented teens flock to the Weizmann Institute’s park-like campus.

Their destination: the Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute (ISSI), a highly competitive program that enables high-school grads, over the summer before they start university, to take part in hands-on research alongside world-renowned scientists.

Dr. Lawrence, who passed away in 2013, found success as a superintendent of Chicago’s public school system, yet always felt she’d missed her true calling of being a scientist. She could, however, use her philanthropy to ensure that other young people were able to pursue their love of science, and joined together with friends to endow the ISSI. By establishing what is today fondly called the Bessie program, she intended to “give bright, talented kids a future in science.”

The Bessie program, conducted in English, is free for the selected students; all costs are covered by scholarships from Weizmann donors. In 2019, 75 students took part, hailing from 17 countries: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, South Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S.

Watch this video about the Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute

“The idea was to create a direct interface between active scientists with mentoring potential and enthusiastic students who might choose to follow in their mentors’ footsteps and become research scientists,” said Dr. Dorit Granot, Director of International Programs for the Davidson Institute of Science Education at the Weizmann Institute. “It quickly became an international forum for the best and the brightest science-oriented youth from around the world.”

And it worked: “Bessies” can be found in the world’s most prestigious universities, and many go on to have careers in science. Some even come back to Weizmann; for example, Prof. Yardena Samuels was a Bessie. Today she is a leading melanoma and cancer researcher with a thriving lab on campus.

The month-long program begins with three weeks conducting research under the guidance of carefully matched mentors, with senior scientists overseeing the work. Students choose their own projects; in 2019, topics included neural networks – machines with an artificial brain; the microenvironment in multiple myeloma; making the invisible visible; and regulating the immune system, to name just a few.

The Bessies also learn key skills such as how to use sophisticated lab equipment, including electron microscopes, advanced computers, lasers, and a high-energy particle accelerator.

But it’s not all work – besides events on campus, the group spends their final week exploring Israel. They camp in the desert, visit Jerusalem, learn about the country’s ecosystems and wildlife, and more. International students often report being surprised by Israel: it’s not just a “big desert,” as a German student expected, or the “war zone” that the parents of a Mexican participant and a girl from Florida feared. They all express delight at the new friends they have all over the world.

Participants follow up with thank-you notes to the donors who provided their scholarships, describing the experience in their own words.

Rachel Aronov, one of 2019’s Bessies, wrote that she researched transport protein pathways in breast cancer. She was able to use $500K state-of-the-art equipment for her work, and was surprised and thrilled that her mentor, Dr. Guy Nadel, “trusted my partners and me enough to use the machinery alone.” She describes how Dr. Nadel was “always so patient with all of my questions ... His passion for his research always shined.”

Ms. Aronov – like so many scientists before her – was inspired by personal experience: “This research was especially close to my heart because my mother herself is a breast cancer patient for almost four years. To have the chance and opportunity to contribute my time for such a cause is something that was always a faraway dream for me. It brings tears to my eyes to even think that I was able to contribute to cancer research, something that is hopefully the beginning of a novel finding.”

As the Bessie program turns 50, it is stronger than ever: a powerhouse of education for the brightest scientists of tomorrow. You can help keep it going for the generations to come.

Are you a “Bessie”? Join the alumni group and stay connected to other graduates and Weizmann. 

Enriching Education

A Summer of Science: The Bessie Lawrence Program Turns 50

• TAGS: Education, Culture, Community, Philanthropy

Every summer since 1969, an international migration takes place as around 80 highly talented teens flock to the Weizmann Institute’s park-like campus.

Their destination: the Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute (ISSI), a highly competitive program that enables high-school grads, over the summer before they start university, to take part in hands-on research alongside world-renowned scientists.

Dr. Lawrence, who passed away in 2013, found success as a superintendent of Chicago’s public school system, yet always felt she’d missed her true calling of being a scientist. She could, however, use her philanthropy to ensure that other young people were able to pursue their love of science, and joined together with friends to endow the ISSI. By establishing what is today fondly called the Bessie program, she intended to “give bright, talented kids a future in science.”

The Bessie program, conducted in English, is free for the selected students; all costs are covered by scholarships from Weizmann donors. In 2019, 75 students took part, hailing from 17 countries: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, South Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S.

Watch this video about the Dr. Bessie F. Lawrence International Summer Science Institute

“The idea was to create a direct interface between active scientists with mentoring potential and enthusiastic students who might choose to follow in their mentors’ footsteps and become research scientists,” said Dr. Dorit Granot, Director of International Programs for the Davidson Institute of Science Education at the Weizmann Institute. “It quickly became an international forum for the best and the brightest science-oriented youth from around the world.”

And it worked: “Bessies” can be found in the world’s most prestigious universities, and many go on to have careers in science. Some even come back to Weizmann; for example, Prof. Yardena Samuels was a Bessie. Today she is a leading melanoma and cancer researcher with a thriving lab on campus.

The month-long program begins with three weeks conducting research under the guidance of carefully matched mentors, with senior scientists overseeing the work. Students choose their own projects; in 2019, topics included neural networks – machines with an artificial brain; the microenvironment in multiple myeloma; making the invisible visible; and regulating the immune system, to name just a few.

The Bessies also learn key skills such as how to use sophisticated lab equipment, including electron microscopes, advanced computers, lasers, and a high-energy particle accelerator.

But it’s not all work – besides events on campus, the group spends their final week exploring Israel. They camp in the desert, visit Jerusalem, learn about the country’s ecosystems and wildlife, and more. International students often report being surprised by Israel: it’s not just a “big desert,” as a German student expected, or the “war zone” that the parents of a Mexican participant and a girl from Florida feared. They all express delight at the new friends they have all over the world.

Participants follow up with thank-you notes to the donors who provided their scholarships, describing the experience in their own words.

Rachel Aronov, one of 2019’s Bessies, wrote that she researched transport protein pathways in breast cancer. She was able to use $500K state-of-the-art equipment for her work, and was surprised and thrilled that her mentor, Dr. Guy Nadel, “trusted my partners and me enough to use the machinery alone.” She describes how Dr. Nadel was “always so patient with all of my questions ... His passion for his research always shined.”

Ms. Aronov – like so many scientists before her – was inspired by personal experience: “This research was especially close to my heart because my mother herself is a breast cancer patient for almost four years. To have the chance and opportunity to contribute my time for such a cause is something that was always a faraway dream for me. It brings tears to my eyes to even think that I was able to contribute to cancer research, something that is hopefully the beginning of a novel finding.”

As the Bessie program turns 50, it is stronger than ever: a powerhouse of education for the brightest scientists of tomorrow. You can help keep it going for the generations to come.

Are you a “Bessie”? Join the alumni group and stay connected to other graduates and Weizmann.