SUU to Everywhere

Walt Petersen ('90)

Walt Petersen ('90)

Originally published on March 02, 2023.

Walt Petersen was, it seems, destined to become a scientist, as he was greatly awed by lightning as a youth and, following high school, served in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger as an aerographer’s mate, observing and briefing on weather conditions. His subsequent work as a meteorological technician for the National Weather Service brought him to Cedar City to manage the FAA weather observatory, and seizing on the local collegiate opportunity, he enrolled at SUU in 1986, earning a B.S. degree in mathematics, summa cum laude. Of that, he says, “it enabled me to pursue the atmosphere with no fear of the physics and associated equations involved in studying the complexities of the atmosphere.”

He later took M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at Colorado State University, and today is chief of the science research and projects division for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where he has worked for the past 20 years, including a four-year interim assignment to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. In 2021 he was honored as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.

Growing up in an Air Force family before his SUU days, he takes pride in his impact on the country’s NASA missions that have studied the Earth, and is likewise proud of his own family. He and his wife, Kara are parents to five children, each of whom has achieved admirably.

He credits SUU’s “close, personal-oriented atmosphere, with attention to students from faculty,” in aiding him in his growth. “It really affected my world view when it came to my attitude and approach to mentoring people who worked for me and/or students I have advised through my career,” he says. “At SUU I learned to learn and found I loved to learn. This made every course I took—even those I didn’t want to take—interesting and of great positive benefit. It was a driver for succeeding in graduate school and as a scientist in NASA.”