FMU's Peterson named Distinguished Professor
Dr. LeRoy “Pete” Peterson Jr., professor of chemistry, was honored as Francis Marion University’s J. Lorin Mason Distinguished Professor for the 2021-22 academic year during a special awards ceremony held last week.
The annual award, named in honor of a former chairman of the FMU Board of Trustees, is the highest honor bestowed upon an FMU faculty member. The distinction also means that Peterson will be FMU’s nominee for the S.C. Governor’s Professor of the Year Award competition.
The award brings part of Peterson’s personal journey full circle. He grew up in the Mars Bluff community near where Francis Marion University now stands, where he earned his undergraduate degree, and where he has taught for 33 years. During brief remarks made before a crowd of university faculty and staff gathered at the FMU Performing Arts Center, Peterson paid homage to his family and attributed his success to their support.
“Even though they didn’t have the opportunity to further their career the way I have done, they planted that seed in me that undergirded my thirst for knowledge,” Peterson said. “Most of them aren’t with us now, but I think about what they did for me almost every night.”
The Mason Distinguished Professor award is based upon a faculty member’s ongoing contributions to teaching, professional service and scholarly activities.
Peterson is the 47th recipient of the Mason award. In 1984, Peterson earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and mathematics from then Francis Marion College. He went on to earn a doctorate in physical-inorganic chemistry in 1990 from the University of South Carolina.
Peterson has served as the faculty advisor for the ODK Leadership Honors Society since 2012, a board member of the Florence Boys and Girls Club, a PTA president and a youth basketball coach.
During the course of his career, Peterson has received over $900,000 of funding from external agencies such as the National Science Foundation, Merck, SC EPSCoR and SC Commission on Higher Education. He has over 20 published articles in peer reviewed chemistry journals, and has been an active presenter at regional and national academic conferences for over 30 years. He was named an FMU Trustee Research Scholar in 2011.
Dr. Fred Carter, FMU’s president, praised Peterson for his contribution to the university.
“Pete is a scholar in every sense of the word; he’s an engaging teacher and a brilliant researcher. Just as important, he is a fine gentleman who has been an essential part of the university community for decades,” said Carter. “His story exemplifies Francis Marion University’s core mission of furthering the lives of our graduates through quality education. No one is more deserving of this recognition.”
Several other members of Francis Marion’s faculty were honored during last week’s ceremony.
Five were given the title of faculty emeriti: Dr. Fred R. David, Dr. David P. Franck, Jack G. Griffith, Dr. Kevin J. Lasher, and Dr. Ronald T. Murphy.
The Charlene Wages Shared Governance Award was presented to Steven Sims, head of Success Services and an associate professor. Sims has taught, advised, and led students, faculty, staff, and administrators while serving on University, College of Liberal Arts, Departmental, and Scholarship committees, as well as national, state, and community conferences. He also participates in the AAUP-FM New Faculty Introduction Seminar by speaking for the AAFSC, and was recently elected to an at-large seat on the AAUP-FM Executive Committee.
The Award for Excellence in Professional Service was given to Dr. Erica Johnson-Edwards, associate professor of History. During her time at the university, Johnson-Edward’s service began within her department and has now reached beyond the local level and is impacting organizations and foundations throughout the region and beyond. Her service to her area of study and profession has included not only membership and participation, but it has also included contributions to advancing her field of study.
Padmaja Rao, an assistant professor of Computer Science, received the Award for Excellence in Teaching. Rao has continually developed curricular and extra-curricular strategies to engage students in the most up to date technologies, engineering and teamwork principles to make them competitive and prepared candidates. In her 17 years, she has positively impacted hundreds of students in the Pee Dee area.
The Award in Excellence in Research and Scholarship was presented to Dr. Jeremey D. Rentsch, associate professor of Biology. Rentsch has established an active and productive research program, and has been successful in acquiring funds to support his research projects. Rentsch’s research is respected in his discipline, as evidenced by collaborations with other universities, and as a reviewer of manuscripts. This spring 2022 semester, he has given speeches to a symposium for a state organization, the College of Charleston, Jacksonville University, and a regional association in his field.