For philanthropist and wealth manager David J. S. Nicholson, the brain is the most complicated computer known to mankind. “It’s one of the last unsolved frontiers of science,” he said.
So, to support research efforts, as well as educate the next generation of neuroscientists, Nicholson gifted $10 million to FAU’s John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter.
Inspired by the launch of Sputnik (world’s first artificial satellite) in 1957, Nicholson knew from a young age he wanted to be a part of the technological future. “I’ve always thought that science is really the root word of, or you can call this the stem of, all improvements in the quality of our lives,” he said.
He earned a degree in electrical engineering from Queen’s University in Canada. He launched his own investment firm in 1978 and the Stiles-Nicholson Foundation in 1992. “As the mission of our foundation unfolded, and we grew, it became apparent that there was a major crisis and shortfall in education, as it related to the STEM fields and science in particular.”
His $9.22 million gift supports the new neuroscience building currently under construction that will now be named FAU’s Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute. His gift also establishes the David J.S. Nicholson Distinguished Professorship in Neuroscience in honor of Randy Blakely, Ph.D., institute executive director, the David and Lynn Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research and the Stiles-Nicholson STEM Teacher Academy. In addition, his gift established the Institute’s ASCEND (Advancing STEM Community Engagement through Neuroscience Discovery) program and provides for its ongoing funding, bringing the total of Nicholson’s gift to $10 million.
“The gift allows for the creation of a world-class research facility, one that will return on the investment made by David Nicholson, FAU and the state of Florida many fold in terms of research success, recruitment of top faculty and trainees, as well as new opportunities, through our community education programs, to broaden awareness of the exciting brain research being done right here in Palm Beach County,” Blakely said.
Here’s what Nicholson said about his donation to FAU:
Q: Why were you inspired to donate to the FAU neuroscience and ASCEND program, specifically?
A: I’m vice chairman of the Board of Trustees for the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium in West Palm Beach. Our foundation was a major sponsor of a permanent exhibit called the Journey Through the Human Brain and collaborated closely with Randy during its development. I got to know Randy over that period of time along with his ASCEND program. Our Foundation subsequently initiated support for the ASCEND program as it was a STEM neuroscience outreach program to elementary, middle and high school students to show them the wonders of the discoveries in neuroscience. For 28 years, I have been very supportive of public education and public higher education, especially in Florida.
Kids may only be 25% of our population but they are 100% of our future. Educating them is our best investment, especially in science.
Q: Are there any people that played a part in this decision?
A: FAU has excellent leadership and that goes right up to the top. John Kelly, Ph.D., (FAU president) has established these different focus areas, one of which is the Brain Institute. In addition to outreach, the Jupiter campus is a neuroscience hub, and the new institute can support the research endeavors that Randy Blakley, PhD., executive director of the newly christened institute, wants to undertake.
Q: What do you hope, aside from supporting research and education, comes from this gift?
A: I’m hoping that this might inspire others to do likewise, to think about giving back, and giving back to education and back to science. ⬥