An energetic Val Peterson welcomed me into the presidential residence this Monday, smiling exuberantly as we both enjoyed the well-decorated walls of the foyer. New to Tech, but an experienced hostess, the first lady quickly made me feel at home by offering me the most comfortable chair in her living room. Soon after we sat down, she was ready to answer my questions.
I learned that a typical week for Mrs. Peterson includes being out of the house five nights a week, usually at a campus event or somewhere else promoting the interests of Tech. “I adore fundraising,” said Mrs. Peterson, who has not only served as first lady at Tech but also at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Along with the president, she is responsible for representing Tech at numerous events, including advisory board meetings, fundraisers and banquets. For their anniversary, they will be attending three Tech events. “The most challenging thing has been learning everyone’s names,” Mrs. Peterson said.
Dr. and Mrs. Peterson were married 35 years ago, May 19th, after meeting at Kansas State University. Mrs. Peterson was pursuing a degree in Spanish and home economics, and Dr. Peterson was pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.
In addition to being first lady, Mrs. Peterson has taught 12 years of Spanish and 24 years of aerobics. “I like sports that I can participate in,” Mrs. Peterson said.
Dr. and Mrs. Peterson lived in College Station, Texas for 19 years, during which time they attended graduate school and worked at Texas A&M, had their fourth child, and were foster parents to nine.
According to a profile of Mrs. Peterson from the Boulder Daily Camera, most of their foster children came to them from abuse or neglect. Despite these circumstances, and despite having four biological children, Dr. and Mrs. Peterson took the children in with welcoming arms. Mrs. Peterson treated all her children the same, whether they were biological or foster.
Dr. and Mrs. Peterson’s experience with foster care led to a partnership between the Boulder County Department of Social Services and the Boulder campus.
While at CU, she helped to establish a scholarship called the Guardian Program, which is for foster children who have aged out of the foster care system. “They are like a family to one another,” Mrs. Peterson said.
Mrs. Peterson is also a skilled seamstress, and she makes a lot of what she wears, including the quilted jacket that she wore for our interview. Sewing is just one of her many hobbies, which include hiking, yoga and taking walks around the city.
She is an expert at forming relationships with people, and it is also something she loves. “I’ve found that my strength is being Bud’s eyes and ears around campus. I love making connections! If people will educate me about what they’re doing at Tech, I can get the word out about it,” Mrs. Peterson said.
Looking toward the future, she has high hopes for Tech but is approaching the job humbly. “For the first few months, we’re going to have to learn and listen to what truly is Tech …. [In the future] I see Tech being broadened, but without losing our focus on what we are,” Mrs. Peterson said.
Mrs. Peterson would like to see Tech grow in a variety of ways. She pointed out that Tech was formerly a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) but does not currently hold that membership. The AAU is a 62-member association of research universities, which accounts for 58 percent of American universities’ research grants and 74 percent of American Nobel Prize winners, according to the AAU web site.