Tech to move forward with Peterson at helm

Back on Oct. 25, the Tech community was reeling from a disappointing Homecoming football loss to Virginia. Little did anyone know that at the same time, the chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), George P. “Bud” Peterson, was visiting campus. Peterson, under consideration to fill the vacant presidency, had made a last-minute decision to fly to Atlanta with his wife Val to get a feel for the campus. They cancelled their original plans to celebrate her birthday after deciding they needed to see Tech up close.

Evidently Peterson liked what he saw and decided to pursue the job. The Board of Regents liked what they saw in him as well, confirming him Wednesday as Tech’s 11th president. Peterson will start work April 1, according to Board of Regents Chair Richard Tucker.

“Dr. Peterson’s credentials are excellent and we were very impressed with what he has achieved in his time at the University of Colorado,” Tucker said in a statement released on the University System of Georgia website. “His leadership experience and his outstanding engineering credentials are a good fit with Georgia Tech.”

Peterson was named as the sole finalist for the position Feb. 9. Georgia law mandates that appointments like this contain a minimum of 14 days between public announcement of nominees and confirmation of a final selection.

Peterson has been CU’s chancellor since July 2006, and by most accounts was enjoying great success there. He was leading CU’s efforts to reinvent itself as a flagship university of the 21st century, as well as correcting the course after several scandals threatened the university’s reputation. CU students spoke highly about Peterson as well. “We meet with him regularly and he is always open to working with students,” said Dustin Farivar, an Executive in CU’s Student Union.

However, Peterson saw this opening at Tech as a unique opportunity to achieve something on a world-changing level. “When you think about institutions around the world that can have a dramatic impact on [areas such as energy and sustainability], Georgia Tech in particular is an institution with [those] characteristics. If we’re going to solve really challenging problems… they’re going to be solved at places like Georgia Tech,” Peterson said.

He emphasized that Tech has been improving at an incredible rate over the past 20 years and that other universities use Tech as an example, citing a memo an associate of his sent to his university’s faculty. “He said, if you want to know how institutions improve, look at Georgia Tech,” Peterson said.

Peterson was welcomed to campus Wednesday afternoon at a reception in the Student Center ballroom. Several hundred students, faculty and staff showed up to shake his hand and meet the man who will succeed Wayne Clough, who departed in July to lead the Smithsonian, and interim president Gary Schuster, who will return to his previous position of provost.

In a brief address, Peterson described how he will approach the transition and what he considers most important as Tech moves forward. “The question I have been formulating is to try to understand initially what it is that has differentiated graduates from this Institute in its history and what will differentiate those graduates in the future… [not just] from the graduates of MIT, Stanford or Berkeley, but more importantly… from those of IIT in [India], Tsinghua in Beijing or Seoul National. That’s the question that you’ll hear me ask as we continue to move forward,” Peterson said.

One thing he identified as being unique to Tech was the affection that alumni, students and employees have for the Institute, calling it “nearly unparalleled.”

He described the engineering-like approach with which he will try to solve challenges like maintaining quality and a tradition of improvement despite dwindling revenue streams. “It’s easy to do more with more. What requires innovation and creativity and leadership is to be able to do more with less,” Peterson said.

Peterson earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M in 1985 and spent nearly 20 years there in positions from professor to associate vice-chancellor of the Texas A&M university system. He served as provost at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 2000 to 2006 before moving to CU to become chancellor. He was a walk-on wide receiver while an undergraduate at Kansas State, and spent several years teaching at high schools in Kansas.