Geology professor’s

Geology professors

Derek Wolff

Since Grand Valley State University opened in 1960, Geology Chair and Associate Professor Virginia “Ginny” Peterson’s family has entwined its roots deep within the university’s community.

While Peterson grew up in Jenison, Mich., her father, Bill, began teaching at GVSU in 1965 as an economics professor. Her mother, Elsie, finished up a degree as an English major in the 70s, and shortly after “Ginny” and her brother, Chuck, joined GVSU’s ranks as undergraduate students.

After pursuing possible majors in engineering and English, Peterson transferred to GVSU in her junior year and explored a degree in environmental science before deciding on geology as her major.

“I took a geology class and fell in love with it,” Peterson said. “I spent a lot of time walking around in the ravines.”

After graduating in 1980 with a B.A. in geology, Peterson worked for AMOCO Production Company in New Orleans and London before earning her masters at the University of Massachusetts in 1984. She met her husband, Jon Burr, there and went on to earn her PhD in geology there in 1992.

Peterson next taught at Western Carolina University for nine years, before a former professor mentioned that there was a faculty position open at GVSU that fit her experience.

“We were pretty happy where we were living,” Peterson said. “But I had a great experience at GVSU as a student. I had family here, and it was a bigger place, so there was quite a bit of appeal.”

Peterson made her return to the Grand Rapids area when she was hired by GVSU in 2003, eventually becoming chair of the geology department. Her initial love of the campus and surrounding area played a crucial role in deciding to return.

“When I was a student here, it was a small place and you knew everybody, especially within the geology department at the time,” she said. “I got excited about the field, because it was a very welcoming place. It’s kind of like a family—in geology you do field trips, and you connect with people, so the department itself was probably key to my experience at Grand Valley.”

Walking around campus again, after a little more than 20 years, made Peterson reminisce about her undergrad days.

“I had a lot of friends who were into environmental issues. I loved the natural environment of the campus,” she said. “Going back to teach here, since I’d maintained contact with the faculty, I knew there was that same, special place within the department that I really liked.”

As GVSU progresses with its 50th anniversary, Peterson acknowledged the differences on campus between the past and present and said that GVSU has grown in a positive manner over the years.

“I think that Grand Valley has done a good job growing and maintaining the focus on undergraduate students,” she said. “I really love working with undergrads—I think that’s what the faculty is looking for when they come here.”

The Peterson family tree has continued to grow along with GVSU’s as her niece, Alice, graduated from the university in 2008 as a film and video major. Peterson herself has a daughter who, although currently only a junior in high school, would certainly have a place as GVSU and the Peterson family continue to grow together.

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