The story behind the creation of the Program is best described as the intersection of the two worlds- scientist and mother of a child with a genetic condition. Founding Director Judith Tsipis, with a PhD from MIT, was a young member of the Biology faculty at Brandeis when, in 1975, her first son Andreas was born. While Andreas had delays in his development at a very early age, it wasn’t until he was 13 that physicians identified the underlying cause of his problems, Canavan disease. This personal experience, along with an inherent love of science, is what inspired Judith to start a genetic counseling program in order to train professionals to help families like hers. In her book, “Telling Genes”, Alexandra Minna Stern beautifully depicted Judith’s story and described her as “a smart, highly educated woman based in academia with access to significant resources” who “was motivated by a mix of maternal love, parental anguish, scientific expertise, and people skills.” These qualities and an incredible amount of hard work culminated in the establishment of the first Master’s Program in Genetics Counseling in New England and Brandeis admitting its first class in 1992. Twenty-five years, and over two hundred graduates later, the strength of this Program is a testament to Judith’s unwavering dedication.
The Genetic Counseling Program continues to honor the life of Andreas. Before his death in 1998 at the age of 22, Judith and her husband Kosta established a scholarship fund in Andreas’ name to help support genetic counseling students. In addition, the strong focus on families and disability awareness that the program was founded on remains a core part of the curriculum today. The programming includes many opportunities for families to share their stories and help students better understand the effects of disability and genetic disease on both the individual and the family. It is our hope that, despite retiring, Judith will continue to share her own story so that students and faculty will appreciate how this program began and why its focus is so valuable.