Back row, from left: Jeffrey, Jillian, and Brian Nickerson
Front row, from left: Beverly and Bruce Nickerson
The Nickerson family’s connection to Caltech goes back decades and runs deep.
Bruce Nickerson remembers attending the annual Reunion Weekend/Seminar Day as a young boy with his father, Douglas (BS ’40). And when Bruce was in high school, the family welcomed a Caltech graduate student from Japan to their Sunday dinners as part of a Pasadena Rotary Club program. The student asked if his roommate could join them one evening, and that student became a weekly fixture at Nickerson gatherings, too. This was the start of a pattern that saw a succession of students regularly visiting the Nickerson household.
“There were probably 25 grad students my parents got to know over the years,” Bruce says. “Several of them had weddings in their garden in La Cañada. When I was taking care of my parents’ effects [after they died], I found theses by these students that included warm notes of appreciation, thanking my parents for making them feel at home.”
When Bruce and his wife, Beverly, were considering how to make a difference with their philanthropy, Caltech naturally came to mind.
“I’ve been associated with a number of world-class institutions, both directly and indirectly,” says Bruce, a retired pediatric pulmonologist who now lives in Seal Beach, California. “Caltech stands out. There’s this ambition, and the willingness to tackle impossible problems with incredible intellectual rigor.”
Douglas (BS ’40,
top) and Elizabeth
An Uncommon Gift
In keeping with the theme of family, Bruce and Beverly consulted with their three adult children, Brian, Jeffrey, and Jillian, about the gift. According to Jillian, an emergency room doctor based in Washington, D.C., the choice was easy.
“Caltech holds a special place in our hearts and our family culture,” she says. “It’s been an honor, across our lifetimes, to be involved with Caltech.”
The Nickersons made a Break Through campaign gift using an uncommon vehicle: the charitable lead trust. In this arrangement, their contribution generates a fixed annuity payment that will benefit the Institute for 20 years, after which the balance will revert to the family.
“Caltech gets a continuing income stream for the next couple of decades, and we get a nice tax deduction,” Bruce says, “so everybody wins.”
The family’s gift provides current-use funds for the Nickerson Early-Career Professorship, established with a preference for female faculty members pursuing engineering and applied science across academic divisions.
Being Part of the Thrill of Discovery
The family’s practice of giving to Caltech began with Bruce’s parents, Douglas and Elizabeth, who were ardent supporters of the Athenaeum and members of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) Board. In the 1980s, Elizabeth served as chair for both the Athenaeum House Committee and the SURF Board. In 1982, she organized a SURF kickoff dinner at the Athenaeum, where students presented their research to faculty members and donors—an occasion so successful that it became an annual event.
The affinity for the Institute passed from one generation to the next. When Brian, Jeffrey, and Jillian were small, Bruce continued the Seminar Day tradition. The Nickerson family remained regulars at the Athenaeum’s Christmas Gala, and Bruce and Beverly were married in the Athenaeum Library. They are longstanding life members of the Caltech Associates.
Special Caltech memories for Beverly, a retired nurse practitioner, relate to trips to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which Caltech manages on behalf of NASA. She and Bruce saw the Perseverance rover, destined for Mars, while it was still under construction. On a previous visit, they viewed the Curiosity rover’s test-double in its practice pen.
“That was amazing,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe we were standing there watching all of this happen. It was such a privilege.” For the Nickersons, supporting the Institute is a way to be part of the thrill of discovery.
“I’ve always found Caltech to be an exciting place,” Bruce says. “The world changes when our understanding of the world changes or we develop new technologies, and a lot of that comes out of Caltech.”