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A dermatologist named a fund after one of his mentors.

vie, sep 30, 2011

An aura surrounded the professor. Wisdom. Caring.

He had a quick smile and a well-trimmed beard. He had a soft voice. You almost had to strain to hear him, yet he commanded respect.

In the summer of ’86, Jeff Parks, now a successful Florida dermatologist, took molecular biology from Professor Tom Weber at UNO before enrolling in med school at UNMC. Jeff never forgot the professor or the lessons he instilled.

They’re still in his heart.

“He taught us that if you listen to a patient – if you just take some time and not be so full of yourself as a physician – the patient will make you seem like a genius because they’ll tell you what’s wrong,” Jeff says. “He taught us to be passionate about anything you do, and not overlook the small stuff.

“Through my medical training, my residency, I always thought back to him and his teaching style. He really created a kind of mentorship. He really encouraged you. You wanted to study because of the way he taught.”

All these years later, Jeff found a “small” way to thank the professor. With an initial gift of $1,000, he created the Tom Weber Undergraduate Research Fund in Biology at UNO. The fund will benefit the Department of Biology and provide research grants to students.

It will honor the professor who made a difference to Jeff.

“I still have young daughters, so I’m not as philanthropic as I want to be yet,” Jeff says. “But as I’ve learned about giving back, I’ve learned that starting little funds like this really can impact students’ lives – students who really aren’t as fortunate as I am at this stage of my career.

“Even though it’s small at this point, maybe someday it’ll grow.”

When he started the fund, he told people at UNO that he was pretty sure Professor Weber would not even remember him.

The professor didn’t. (“As you probably know I am a little embarrassed that I don’t remember Jeff.”)

But the professor, who’s retired now, was delighted. From an e-mail:

Dear Jeff,

Wow, what a totally unexpected and pleasant surprise. You had a terrific idea and I am overwhelmed by your thoughtfulness in attaching my name to it. In my opinion you couldn’t have picked a better target for support than undergraduate research.

Now that you have the ball rolling, I intend to add some money to the fund. …

The two plan to see each other again someday. When they do, they’ll probably thank each other again.

Says Jeff, who also contributes to UNMC: “I guess you get to a point in your life and you realize how important your teachers and your mentors are. And if you can give back, it’s nice to do.

“Even if it’s not financial, you still can give back in time or support or even in a well-thought-out letter thanking them.”

Student support is a priority of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you’d also like to support the Tom Weber Undergraduate Research Fund in Biology at UNO, please consider giving online or contact the foundation’s Mary Bernier at 402-502-4108.

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