Georgia Tech president impresses alumni in Albany

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- After five days of traveling about 1,000 miles around the state through 40-plus counties, Georgia Tech President G.P. "Bud" Peterson had little difficulty making himself at home Friday afternoon at Doublegate Country Club.

The university's 11th president since it was founded in 1885, Peterson was visiting the Albany Georgia Tech Alumni Association as part of the school's fundraising summer tour.

Albany native and Undergraduate Student Body President Corey Boone was part of the traveling group Friday, which included Peterson's wife, Val, and Public Relations Director Lisa Ray Grovenstein.

The Petersons, Boone and Grovenstein stopped by The Albany Herald before attending the lunchtime Doublegate event. Boone said his outlook has changed greatly since attending the Atlanta university with an undergraduate enrollment of 13,585 students and about 20,000 students total. The research institution has students from 111 countries and 49 states.

"I wanted to go to a school that was based on technology," said Boone, a 2007 Deerfield-Windsor School graduate who's entering his senior year at Tech. "I'm very excited (about my upcoming graduation) because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Like most institutions of higher learning, Peterson said that Georgia Tech has lost state funding because of the sour economy. In the last three years, the university has lost about $85 million and now receives about $200 million annually from the state.

"We're managing it, but we're fortunate because Georgia has two universities ranked in the top 25 for public universities," he said. "We don't want to whine, the folks here (elected officials) are doing what they can."

Peterson was happy to also talk about Georgia Tech athletics, which features 17 sports.

"It's tough for our coaches because each student has to have two calculus classes and laboratory science classes (and pass them in order to graduate). There's no basket weaving courses," said Peterson, who became president April 2009 after being the University of Colorado's chancellor. "The challenge is to have students not in the weight room, but in the library."

Various Albany area education, city and political leaders greeted Peterson and the others on the tour when they arrived at Doublegate for the luncheon. Boasting about 400 members, the Albany Georgia Tech Alumni Association luncheon attracted about 150-200 people.

Utilizing a PowerPoint presentation, Peterson talked about the school's 25-year plan, how its students and faculty members are designing for the future, its record-setting freshman class, recent athletic success and its changing campus landscape.

When he broke down the freshman class, he said that 61 percent of those students hailed from Georgia and that its African-American and Hispanic student populations increased 55 percent and 65 percent, respectively. Peterson said that freshman applicants were up 29 percent over the last two years. Freshman averaged a 3.9 grade-point average and a 1,380 SAT score. He said the school receives about 13,000 applicants and accepts only 2,500 for freshman spots.

At the end of his presentation, Peterson fielded questions. An audience member asked about what he thought of students literally bringing a goal post from the football stadium to his campus home on 10th Street after the team beat Virginia Tech last October. He said there were about 800-900 students who showed up his house carrying the heavy souvenir. The students cut up the goal posts at his home with hacksaws and other items.

"It was great and it happened to be Val's birthday, so they sang to her," he said laughing. "Just a really neat event."

Albany resident Lamar Reese also attended the alumni luncheon. Reese, a 1955 Georgia Tech grad, had three sons, John, Mack and Frank, who also graduated from the school in '80, '83 and '96. John Reese has continued the tradition with two sons graduating from Tech. Jake graduated in 2007 and Will graduated in '09. His third son, Paul, will graduate in 2011.