Robert Duncan Nicol has never heard the sound of his own voice. He did not speak until he was 10 years old.

But since Mr. Nicol, profoundly deaf since childhood, found his voice, he has dedicated his life to proving that deafness would never deter him from achieving his dreams.

He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and the only “FAIA hearing-impaired architect in private practice in the world,” according to his website.

Now Mr. Nicol has pledging $2 million to Fresno State’s Department of Communicative Disorders & Deaf Studies in the College of Health and Human Services.

His gift establishes the Robert Duncan Nicol Endowed Chair in the Silent Garden.

“I’m able to prove that deaf people indeed can do many things,” says Mr. Nicol.

He attended the Army and Navy Academy of Carlsbad before graduating from University of California, Berkeley with a degree in architecture in 1961. He began his private practice in 1967.

In 2005, he bought 20 acres of vineyards in Napa, where he established Robert Nicol Vineyards, growing pinot noir and chardonnay grapes for nearby wineries.

By feeling the vibrations of music he learned to play the piano and guitar. His interests also include horseback riding, sailing, parachuting, skiing and co-piloting small airplanes.

Mr. Nicol credits his parents for opening doors of opportunity to him at a young age. He says children who are deaf or hard of hearing need special educational support to unlock their individual talents.

“That support was pretty obvious to me when I visited Fresno State,” says Mr. Nicol. “Other schools may or may not have it, but I found it in Fresno and I am more than happy to support them.”

The Robert Duncan Nicol Endowed Chair in the Silent Garden will bring experts from across the nation to teach at Fresno State and conduct outreach with the community. A new guest lecturer will be invited each year to teach and provide free workshops, seminars and counseling services for teachers, parents and professionals.

The Silent Garden was established by Fresno State professor emeritus Paul Ogden. “In the past two decades, most research in the deafness-related fields has been done by experts on the East Coast. The West Coast suffers from this lack of research and support from experts,” Mr. Ogden says.

Messrs Ogden and Nicol have known each other since 1972.

“The Silent Garden is a community oriented program focused on sharing knowledge and training families,” Mr. Ogden says. “The deaf population can often be invisible, but Silent Garden will help us bring awareness to the community.”

The Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies in the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State trains professionals in speech-language pathology, audiology, deaf education and interpreting.

For more on grants and grant writing, visit Grant Pros.


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