On Wednesday, March 14, Dr. Virginia Peterson, Professor Emerita of Biochemistry, and Dr. Charles Peterson, Associate Professor Emeritus of Physics, were honored for their estate commitment of $1,250,000 to the University of Missouri. The gift will support the already established Virginia E. Peterson Scholarship in Biochemistry and celebrates her career of dedication to students at Mizzou.
A Decisive Moment
Virginia Peterson is a native of Port Orchard, Washington, near Seattle. She knew as a high school student that she wanted to attend college and study chemistry. Nonetheless, her school required female students to work with their own guidance counselor, and this counselor refused to help Peterson prepare college applications. Although she was the valedictorian of a class of 250 students, the counselor deemed chemistry an unsuitable subject for women to study. Peterson refused to let this obstacle stand. She spoke to her high school principal, and she secured support for her application to the University of Washington. This example of determined ambition set a foundation for Peterson’s career, as she became known for her investment in students as she helped them to pursue their dreams.
Teaching and Inspiring Others
During her 31-year career at Mizzou, Peterson served as the undergraduate advising chair for biochemistry and taught the department’s first writing-intensive course. She served as a CAFNR Teaching Scholar and twice won the college’s Excellence in Teaching Award. Her experience as a laboratory technician taught her to convey to students the importance of fundamental skills and critical evaluation of data. She also mentored students in community involvement, through volunteer work outside the classroom. The combination was life-changing for students in the biochemistry department, as well as for many students with other majors who enrolled in her courses. Frank Schmidt, a faculty colleague, recalled attending Mizzou commencement exercises with Peterson and seeing the impact she made on a generation of graduates:
“For years, I was struck by the outpouring of gratitude directed to one faculty member in particular. Dr. Virginia Peterson was the recipient of more handshakes, grins, hugs and high-fives than just about anyone.”
Preparing for a Legacy
Virginia and Charles met as undergraduates at Washington, where they graduated together on the same day in 1966. For many years as Mizzou faculty members, the Petersons lived on one salary and invested the other, brought their lunches to work, and planned for the future. Through their commitment to a frugal lifestyle, they set aside resources that now enable them, through philanthropy, to convey their love for Mizzou and its students even in their retirement.
Virginia enjoys reading, quilting and traveling the world with Charles. But her work to inspire new generations continues as she volunteers for the Boy Scouts of America, judges science fairs and participates in outreach activities statewide to encourage future scientists and doctors. Through the Virginia E. Peterson Scholarship in Biochemistry, future generations of Mizzou students will gain from her determination to overcome obstacles and from her passion to inspire others.