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$4.5 million bequest gift to benefit Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Peter Nickerson in the classroom. His undergraduate honors seminar “What Did They Die From?” which studied disease by delving into the biographies and deaths of famous people, was particularly popular among students.

By MARY COCHRANE

Published November 17, 2017

“This love for UB, the campus, the faculty, the students, the academic life was to define Peter as time went on. He was Mr. UB.”
Reid Heffner, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus
Department of of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences

The late Peter Ayers Nickerson, a beloved UB faculty member who spent nearly 50 years teaching in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has given $4.5 million to the school.

The bequest gift from Nickerson’s estate will serve two purposes: $1.5 million of the total will establish an endowed faculty position, the Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Professor and Chair in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, where he taught for nearly 50 years. John E. Tomaszewski, SUNY Distinguished Professor, will be the first Nickerson chair.

The remaining $3 million of the gift will create a dean’s fund in the Jacobs School in Nickerson’s name.

Michael Cain, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said the gift is especially meaningful because it comes from a longtime faculty member who, without a family of his own, devoted himself to the Jacobs School and its students during his entire career.

“Peter was revered by his students, many of whom stayed in touch with him long after leaving UB,” Cain says. “His legacy of love for education and serving his students will live on through the department chair and dean’s fund named for him. This gift was his way of helping future students who he wouldn’t have the pleasure of knowing.”

That Nickerson gave his estate to UB did not surprise any who knew him. Cain says Nickerson knew the importance of such gifts to the success of the $200 million fundraising campaign for the Jacobs School.

Reid Heffner, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, saw how much UB meant to Nickerson during the 43 years he knew him.

“This love for UB, the campus, the faculty, the students, the academic life was to define Peter as time went on. He was Mr. UB,” Heffner says. “He became more involved with UB than anyone I know; it became his family. He literally had no other family.”

Longtime UB colleague and friend Claude Welch, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Political Science, says of Nickerson: “Peter gave himself wholeheartedly to his students and colleagues. He had no greater love than for this university.”

And Scott Darling, a student of Nickerson who became his colleague in the Jacobs School, says UB was the better for having Nickerson all these years.

“Dr. Nickerson was an invaluable mentor to me,” says Darling, clinical assistant professor of orthopaedics. “I will never forget how much he helped me be where I am today — a local physician who has worked at UBMD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine for just over 10 years. His legacy will always live on by those he has touched so dearly. “

Nickerson began teaching at UB after earning an AB in biology from Brown University, and MA and PhD degrees in cell biology from Clark University as a NASA and University of Pennsylvania Health System pre-doctoral fellow.

In September, the UB community held a memorial celebration of Nickerson, who died Feb. 2 at the age of 75. Several of his fellow faculty members and staff colleagues spoke about his many accomplishments during his career. As Heffner puts it, “Peter was head of practically everything,” in his department and throughout UB.

The list of Nickerson’s service to UB is long: chair of the UB Faculty Senate for five terms; chair of the Medical Faculty Council, the governance body for the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, for one term; senator of the SUNY-wide Faculty Senate, representing the health sciences; president of the Western New York Alzheimer’s Association chapter. He initiated many innovative programs at UB, including the Jacobs School’s early admission program, and was instrumental in developing liaisons between the Jacobs School and the School of Law.

Primarily, Nickerson will be remembered for his kindness and love of teaching. He ran a student-centered classroom in which students researched and taught topics to each other under his guidance. Students also talk about his popular undergraduate honors seminar — called “What Did They Die From?” — that studied disease by delving into the biographies and deaths of famous people. Perhaps most of all, they remember the snacks Nickerson would bring to evening seminars, guaranteeing none of them went hungry while in class over the dinner hour.

And with his final act of extraordinary generosity, he will be remembered in perpetuity by the institution he cherished.

The gift from Nickerson’s estate, and the named position and fund it creates, are subject to the approval of the UB Council, the SUNY chancellor and the SUNY Board of Trustees.

READER COMMENTS

Peter was a wonderful colleague and a delightful man. During my short tenure as chair of the Faculty Senate, Peter was always at my right side with sage advice and wisdom. More than any other he truly represented the voice of the faculty.

 

He will be sorely missed.

 

Michael Cohen

Professor Peter Nickerson was also a compassionate leader of the UB Faculty Senate, who was the first in his position to visit the Arthur O. Eve Educational Opportunity Center and truly recognize the significant importance of the organization to the Buffalo, UB and New York State communities.

 

George Deshaies

Dr. Nickerson was a constant at Division of Neonatology lab meetings at the Center of Developmental Biology of the Lung in the Biomedical Research Building, South Campus, for as long as I can remember.

 

Despite his many commitments, he always made time to attend these meetings and teach all of us on the pathology of neonatal lung disease. My interest in bronchopulmonary dysplasia is partly from the mentorship of Dr. Nickerson.

 

You were an invaluable mentor and a great teacher. We are thankful to you, Peter!

 

Vasanth Kumar