By Jeff Murphy, September 10, 2023
Celebrating the signing of an agreement making possible the John Hess Endowed Chair in Biology or Chemistry for Student Mentorship at the University of Central Missouri were from left, UCM alumnus Dr. Stephen Lacey, ‘76; Courtney Goddard, J.D., vice president for university advancement and executive director of the UCM Alumni Foundation; Ann Lacey; John Hess, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biology.
WARRENSBURG, MO – Recognizing the value of strong professor-student relationships, UCM alumnus Dr. Stephen Lacey and his wife, Ann Lacey, Coppell, Texas, are establishing the John Hess Endowed Chair in Biology or Chemistry for Student Mentorship with a $1 million gift to the University of Central Missouri Foundation. An agreement creating this first-ever endowed chair at UCM was signed formally during a ceremony at the W.C. Morris Science Building on Aug. 28.
Courtney Goddard, J.D., vice president for university advancement and executive director of the UCM Alumni Foundation, and the Laceys signed the agreement, officially putting in motion this opportunity to honor John Hess, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biology, for his classroom excellence and tireless dedication to the growth and development of students through individualized mentoring.
Hess, who taught and mentored Lacey when Lacey was an undergraduate student, retired from UCM in December 2002 after serving the institution for more than 33 years. His professional service as an educator touched the lives of hundreds of students and included instructional responsibility for courses in ecology, genetics, ornithology, herpetology, scientific and technical photography, among many others.
Lacey came to UCM in 1972 and graduated in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. He continued his education, completing an MD at Washington University in St. Louis in 1981. He served on the faculty at University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas for 26 years. He concurrently practiced gastroenterology in Southlake, Texas for 25 years.
“This endowed chair, from my perspective, honors not only the work of John Hess, but also recognizes the relationship between Dr. Hess [and his wife, Regina] and the Laceys, and the relationship between a student and a faculty member,” Goddard said. “I think that is so important. The ultimate goal of an endowed chair is to enrich the student experience.”
The agreement notes that “transformational mentoring is invaluable for every discipline, but especially important for would-be health professionals and patients they will care for during their entire career. Special professors make these sacrifices to empower the future professional, but also to develop the whole person, helping him or her to deal with the challenges they will encounter by having a breadth of knowledge.”
Through their gift, the Laceys seek to reward and foster the careers of faculty members in Chemistry and Biology who hold this love of mentoring as powerfully as they do. This passion was praised during the award announcement by UCM President Roger Best, Ph.D., who recognized publicly the donors’ generosity and the individual whom their gift permanently celebrates.
“Dr. Hess, from your first day as a faculty member at the university you set an example for what it means to engage with our students, to challenge them and hold them to high standards, to show what’s possible for them if they apply themselves,” Best said.
“Steve and Ann,” the president added, “thank you for sharing your gift to honor Dr. Hess and Steve’s alma mater, because often the opportunities that students find themselves in not only transform their own lives but transform the communities in which they live and subsequent generations. That’s exactly what your gift is doing for us. It benefits the legacy of Dr. Hess, but it also certainly creates an opportunity for generations of faculty and generations of students to come.”
Income earned from the endowment will support the position’s base salary, office space, clerical assistance, supplies, equipment, travel and other costs as deemed appropriate by Jeff Robertson, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health, Science, and Technology (CHST). The position may be used as a way to honor a distinguished tenured or tenure-track faculty member or to attract a new tenured or tenure-track faculty member to UCM. A committee assigned by the dean will interview and recommend the Dr. John Hess Endowed Chair in Biology or Chemistry, and will submit a recommendation to the dean. The foundation will also accept additional contributions to the fund supporting this unique campus position.
Dean Robertson noted that he had the opportunity to spend time with the Laceys with regard to a previous scholarship they established on campus. While doing so, he had the privilege of observing the couple’s passion for helping students.
“I want to honor the Laceys for this gift and say ‘thank you.’ I think we could all learn from them as a university. They are very inspiring mentors to the students and the people they interact with,” Robertson told the small gathering of faculty and staff members representing Chemistry and Biology programs at UCM.
In his remarks to the gathering, Lacey spoke about an early experience he had on his first day in fourth grade, meeting his teacher, Mrs. Frost, who had a reputation for being tough. While he got off to a rocky start with this teacher, she ignited a passion in him for mathematics, which “became a critical branch point” in his life. Dr. Hess was the other book end of critical branch points in Lacey’s academic life.
“Teachers normally tell us what to see. Great teachers and mentors show us where to look,” said Lacey, who decided during his third year of study at UCM to change his major for the ninth time to a program that would prepare him to become a medical doctor. “John’s mentoring became the model for me as a medical school professor – to be a John Hess kind of professor. … His door was open, and his heart was open.”
Regarding the gift to make possible the endowed chair, Hess stressed the value of providing the financial means for faculty members to be focused on mentoring particularly considering the challenges educators face with other commitments, and financial challenges that come from declining state support for higher education, This endowment “helps support learning in the purest sense,” he said.
“The business of mentoring is one on one. It is very important to have that kind of continuing relationship,” Hess remarked. “To be chosen as a mentor is a terrific honor bestowed upon you by a student, and it is deeply rewarding.”