A life of scholarship and service: honoring Steven C. Beering

Walther Hall Auditorium
Indianapolis, Indiana

Monday, October 17, 2016

Highlights of a distinguished life and career

Over the course of his highly distinguished career, Dr. Steven Beering has served as a physician to astronauts; as the architect of Indiana’s successful medical education system; as dean of one of the country’s leading medical schools; and as a university president who helped build the institution he led into a leading public research university.

Dr. Beering was born in Berlin in 1932. His family attempted unsuccessfully to flee Hitler’s Germany in 1938. When he was 15, his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh—where Dr. Beering’s maternal grandparents, who were Jewish, had lived since the early 1930s when they fled the Nazi regime.1

Dr. Beering attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he received his bachelor’s degree summa cum laude, and his medical degree.

Physician to astronauts

In the last year of his studies at Pitt, Dr. Beering joined the U.S. Air Force—and married his beloved wife, Jane, who passed away last year, and who is remembered with great fondness by the many people around the country whose lives she touched.

As a second lieutenant in the Air Force, Dr. Beering was eligible for a military-sponsored internship, which he completed at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He spent 11 years in the Air Force Medical Corps, and was based for much of that time at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He rose steadily in the ranks, becoming a lieutenant colonel and chief of internal medicine at Lackland’s Wilford Hall Medical Center. There, he served on the medical support teams for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs. An endocrinologist, Dr. Beering’s research into hormonal changes that occur in the body as a result of environmental stress were particularly relevant to the early space program.

Architect of Indiana’s statewide medical education system; Dean of the School of Medicine

In 1969, Dr. Beering accepted a position as professor of medicine and assistant dean at the IU School of Medicine.

Dr. Glenn Irwin, then dean of the IU School of Medicine, assigned Dr. Beering a project that would transform medical education in Indiana. Because record numbers of graduates of the School of Medicine at that time were leaving the state to practice medicine elsewhere, and because progressively fewer graduates were entering primary care residencies, the Indiana General Assembly had proposed the establishment of a second medical school. Six Indiana cities were lobbying to be chosen as the site for the proposed school, though none could gain the number of votes necessary for passage of a bill.

Dr. Beering, as many of you know, developed the plan the State Legislature eventually approved. This system, of course, established community-based regional centers for medical education in Evansville, Ft. Wayne, Gary, Lafayette, Muncie, South Bend, and Terre Haute. Students enrolled for their first two years at these centers and completed their final two years of medical training here in Indianapolis.

This bold and visionary system was a tremendous success and has been widely replicated. It has extended the high-quality education and research of the IU School of Medicine to all corners of the state. IU’s regional medical education programs have subsequently been transformed from 2-year to 4-year programs, and in Evansville, construction is underway on a multi-institutional health science education and research campus that is expected to help transform that city’s downtown. And all of this is thanks, in large measure, to Dr. Beering’s vision and leadership.

When Glenn Irwin became IUPUI’s second chancellor in 1973, Dr. Beering succeeded him as dean of the IU School of Medicine. He served concurrently as chair of the Council of Deans for the Association of Medical Colleges and as a leader in the College of Physicians.

Purdue and beyond

In 1982, Dr. Beering received a call from a search committee seeking candidates for the presidency at Purdue University. He wasn’t interested—but they were persistent. Dr. Beering became Purdue’s 9th president on July 1, 1983 and served in that role for 17 years, retiring in 2000.

Dr. Beering deserves great credit for Purdue’s growth into a major public research university. At the beginning of his presidency, Purdue received around $57 million annually in external grants for research and other activity. When he retired in 2000, that figure had nearly tripled.2

During his presidency, he was also a strong advocate for liberal arts education. Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts grew to become one of the university’s largest schools, and is today housed in the Steven C. Beering Hall of Liberal Arts and Education, one of 20 buildings constructed at Purdue during his tenure.

Dr. Beering also served for 22 years on the board of directors of Eli Lilly and Company. When he stepped down in 2005, he was the board’s longest-serving member and had served as its first independent presiding director.

In 2002, he was appointed to the National Science Board—which advises the U.S. President and Congress on science issues and oversees the execution of National Science Foundation grants—and, in 2006, was elected as its chair.

Honors and awards

Dr. Beering has been widely recognized and honored for his many achievements.

The University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Beering’s alma mater—which he served for many years as a trustee—honored him with the university’s Distinguished Alumni Fellows Award.

He is a four-time recipient of Indiana’s Sagamore of the Wabash honor.

He is the recipient of a number of honorary doctorates, including one from Indiana University, conferred on him in 1988. He also received IU’s President’s Medal for Excellence in 1999.

The IU School of Medicine, as many of you know, has honored Dr. Beering by establishing the prestigious Steven C. Beering Award in his name. The award honors an internationally recognized researcher in biomedical or clinical science. Seven former Beering Award recipients have become Nobel laureates, either before or after receiving the award.

Unveiling of a plaque in Dr. Beering’s honor

We are very pleased to further honor Dr. Beering’s passionate commitment to medical and higher education today.

I am pleased to announce that the medical education wing at Lyles-Porter Hall at the IU School of Medicine—West Lafayette at Purdue University is being named the Dr. Steven C. Beering Medical Education Wing and that a commemorative plaque that honors Dr. Beering’s distinguished career will hang in the medical education wing.

I invite Jay Hess, dean of the IU School of Medicine, and Associate Dean Regina Kreisle, to join me in unveiling a replica of the plaque.

Dr. Beering, Indiana University is grateful for your enormous contributions to higher education and medical education in our state, and for your lifetime commitment to service. Thank you and congratulations.

Source notes

  1. Michael S. Maurer, 19 Stars of Indiana: Exceptional Hoosier Men, (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2010), 88.
  2. In 19 Stars of Indiana, Mickey Maurer writes that these figures grew from $35 million in 1982 to nearly $300 million in 2000. However, a Purdue bio of Dr. Beering says “Annual support for research topped $130 million. I called the office of Purdue’s VP for Research. An administrative asst. there pulled up a historical file and told me the numbers were $57 million in 1982 and $167 million in 2000.”