Longtime faculty member Peter Ayers Nickerson, PhD, bequeathed a gift to the school that established an endowed faculty position and created a dean’s fund.

$4.5 Million Bequest Gift from Faculty Member to Benefit School

Published December 5, 2017

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

“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.”
Vice president for health sciences and dean, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

The bequest from Nickerson’s estate will serve two purposes.

An endowed faculty position — the Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Professor and Chair in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences — has been established with $1.5 million of the total. John E. Tomaszewski, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor, will be the first Nickerson chair.

The remaining $3 million of the gift created a dean’s fund in the school in Nickerson’s name.

An ‘Invaluable Mentor’ Who Was ‘Revered’ By Students

Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said that the gift is especially meaningful because it comes from a faculty member who, without a family of his own, devoted himself to the 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,” said Cain. “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.”

Scott R. Darling, MD ’03, one of Nickerson’s former students — who later became one of his colleagues — said UB was the better for having Nickerson.

“Dr. Nickerson was an invaluable mentor to me,” said 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 ‘Gave Himself Wholeheartedly’

In Nickerson’s student-centered classroom, students researched and taught topics to each other under his guidance. Students remember his popular undergraduate honors seminar — called “What Did They Die From?” — that studied disease by delving into the biographies and deaths of famous people. They also remember the snacks Nickerson would bring to evening seminars, guaranteeing none of them went hungry while in class over the dinner hour.

Reid R. Heffner, MD, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor and 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,” said Heffner. “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 E. Welch Jr., PhD, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Political Science, said of Nickerson: “Peter gave himself wholeheartedly to his students and colleagues. He had no greater love than for this university.”

Many Roles Through Multiple Decades

Nickerson began teaching at UB after earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University and master’s and doctoral degrees in cell biology from Clark University as a NASA and University of Pennsylvania Health System pre-doctoral fellow.

The list of Nickerson’s service to UB includes: 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; and president of the Western New York Alzheimer’s Association chapter. 

He initiated many programs at UB, including the medical school’s early admission program, and he was instrumental in developing liaisons between the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the UB School of Law.

In September, the UB community held a memorial celebration of Nickerson, who died Feb. 2 at the age of 75.