Connecting with Georgia Tech’s ‘Queen Bee’
Val Peterson has been first lady of Georgia Tech for seven years. In the President’s Residence on 10th Street, the Petersons have many family photos, including their foster children.
From managing the President’s Residence, to fundraising, to serving in the Association of American Universities, to mentoring, and public speaking — sometimes even in Spanish (in which she has her Texas A&M master’s degree) — Georgia Tech’s first lady is one busy bee. The “Queen Bee,” that is.
Exceptionally warm, jocular, and irrepressibly charming, the Seattle-born, Kansas City-raised Val Peterson prefers not to be addressed as “Mrs. Peterson.” Instead, she says, “Just call me Val ... or Queen Bee.” As the Institute’s first lady of the past seven years, the mother of four biological and nine foster children, today, also proudly considers herself “mom” to Tech’s more than 25,000 students, which is why she happily lays claim to the moniker Val P., the Queen Bee.
But the nurturer that is Val P. is as much Val, the connector. She zealously embraces her role as a “great cheerleader for the Institute,” and, in so doing, fervidly connects with all things Tech — down to the four closets of self-made outfits that are each some combination of white and gold, black and gold, or navy and gold. Her clothes have been the topic of many a conversation that has facilitated one of things she most enjoys: “I specialize in making connections; it’s one of my favorite things. I am a connector. I love to find out where people’s passions lie and where their passions connect with Tech.”
Read on to find out more about what makes the Queen Bee buzz.
What do you enjoy most about being Georgia Tech’s first lady?
I enjoy fundraising. That’s what I spend most of my time doing. I go where I think I add value. If I’m choosing whether to accept this invitation or that, I will always take the fundraising opportunity. My family says that I can talk to rocks, and that is a wonderful skill in fundraising, especially in this job, in my support of Bud.
Which cause within the fundraising realm are you most passionate about?
I love the Tech Promise program! Bud and I give our personal philanthropy in support of this program. We just finished the capital campaign in which we were supposed to find $1.5 billion, and we found more than $1.8 billion. So proud! Our goal specifically for Tech Promise was $50 million, but when we finished the campaign, we had more than $60 million. (Editor’s Note: Fundraising for Tech Promise continues to be one of Georgia Tech’s highest priorities in the post-campaign period.) Tech Promise just fits in with who I am because I love to take care of the underdog. I love to tell people about Tech Promise because it’s such an inspiring story. I’m so thankful to [President Emeritus] Wayne Clough for starting it right before we got here so we could carry on his good work.
Talk about your involvement in foster care.
That conversation could actually be a separate interview because it’s so big, but we basically had nine children over 11 years, after the last of our four entered the public school system. I was at the point where I didn’t want to work anymore, and I didn’t want to get any more degrees; I just wanted to stay home and be a mom. Today, I have one young lady who says to me, ‘Of all of my moms — and I have a lot [biological mother, stepmother, mother-in-law, foster mother] — you’re the best.’ She makes me cry when she says that.
What’s your favorite place on campus and why?
It’s the President’s Residence at Tech because my family is here. Half of our children have lived here, and my father [who passed away four months ago] lived here.
Also, the arch on North Avenue is another of my favorite places on campus. I think it’s so pretty; it’s a neat way to enter the campus. That archway is just filled with hope as to what you’re going to find on the other side.
What are the top three things on your bucket list?
I want to zip line with my family. I want to lead a Tech tour for the Alumni Association. And, I want to be a grandmother — which is coming Jan. 8, 2017! Man, these kids are 33, 35, 37, and 39 ... I’ve been waiting forever!
How do you and President Peterson unwind together?
We walk. On nights that we don’t have Tech events, we walk on campus and meet the most interesting people.
If you had to choose one thing that makes you the most proud of Dr. Peterson, what would it be?
His vision! I recently accused him of RUNNING into the future with Georgia Tech!
What do you want your legacy as First Lady of Georgia Tech to be?
For our students, I want to be known as their Georgia Tech mom, while they’re on this campus, and I want our marriage to be a model of a relationship to which they can aspire. For our faculty and staff, I want to be known as a sincere supporter.
For the administration, I want to be known as a member of the team. But most of all, I want to be known as an amazing fundraiser for our incredible, cutting-edge, life-changing university!