At Virginia Tech, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) is more than a motto. It is a commitment to serve others; a commitment to go above and beyond; a commitment to the university’s land-grant mission; a commitment that Virginia Tech employee John Peterson personifies daily.
For 23 years, Peterson has served as a laboratory specialist advanced in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. He has a diverse set of job responsibilities, ranging from highly technical computer code writing, to database management for the Virginia Big Tree program, to assisting graduate students with statistics and graphics.
He is also responsible for the direct supervision of two labs, as well as the maintenance of the forestry greenhouse. He maintains and calibrates a large amount of technical equipment for a team of graduate students and works in the field assisting them with their projects.
“Essentially, he fills the equivalent of three or four positions — lab/greenhouse supervisor, field technician, courseware/app developer, and educator/mentor, and he does them all in an exemplary fashion,” said Jay Sullivan, professor and head of the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation . “And he doesn’t just do his job; his innovation changes how the job is done. He brings significant attention to the university, enhances the work of others, and constantly strives for a more efficient way to move us along.”
One of Peterson's most notable accomplishments has been as a collaborator in the development of Virginia Tech’s tree biology web-, computer-, and smart-phone-based educational material. Peterson has been actively involved with this project since 1997 and served on the team that was awarded the University XCaliber Award for Excellence in developing courseware in 2001.
The collaboration has resulted in the development of the most popular tree ID app (vTree) available for smart phones and tablets. Peterson also has a role in similar development teams that have created many multimedia forest biology and plant ID products that are utilized by businesses, individuals, and other universities.
While still performing his official duties, Peterson also does a significant amount of outreach, service, and teaching.
He volunteers for the Virginia Master Naturalists program, where he leads hikes, teaches classes, and has even hosted a tree walk followed by a picnic dinner at his farm. He routinely assists with tree identification programs within Virginia Cooperative Extension’s award-winning Virginia Forest Landowners Education program and helped develop programs aimed at reaching middle- and high-school students with forestry knowledge.
He serves as a panel member for the oral Forest Ecology class exam, judges student posters, and fills in to teach dendrology when graduate students or faculty are out of town.
Peterson also invests heavily in graduate students' lives outside of work by leading kayak trips, planning hikes, and hosting cookouts.
“It is not an overstatement to say that a lot of us partially owe our success as graduate students to John Peterson,” said his former graduate student, Michael Tyree, assistant professor in the biology department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “I am lucky to have known John and even more fortunate to still call him a friend.”
In recognition of his commitment to the university’s motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Peterson is one of six Virginia Tech employees nominated in 2016 to represent the university in the statewide Governor’s Award program. He was nominated in the governor’s star award category. The winners were announced in May.
Written by Katie Huger, employee communications manager.