Alumni Scholar Profile: Q&A with 1965 Scholar Peter Erdman

Alumni Scholar Profile: Q&A with 1965 Scholar Peter Erdman

By Curtis L. Esquibel

Laying the groundwork for an eventual manned mission to the moon, the Gemini Space Program launched its second unmanned spacecraft to test heat protection and structural integrity upon launch and re-entry. In other headlines, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a civil rights march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery.

The year was 1965.

1965 Scholar Cover Photo

It was also the year that Peter Erdman received the Boettcher Scholarship as a senior at Fairview High School in Boulder. After opening his scholarship offer letter, Peter told himself that one day he would give back to the program that helped launch his career and pursue his love of science.

Earlier this year, Peter donated a major gift to the Foundation in support of the scholarship program. (Visit here to learn about giving to the Boettcher Foundation).

“I was the first in my family to go to college,” he said. “The financial support of the Boettcher Foundation gave me that opportunity.”

Today, Peter teaches physics in the physical science department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL. While he took the fall semester off from teaching, Peter sat down to answer some questions about his career path, life, and philanthropic interests.

Share a little about your post-Boettcher Scholar life – family, career path, interests, and inspirations?

“I finished at the University of Colorado with an undergraduate degree in physics and continued on to graduate school in physics at the University of Pittsburgh. There I completed a PhD in between making some mountaineering trips to the Himalaya, Andes, Canada, and Alaska. I have been married (41 years now) and have two daughters, who are all grown up. I continued as a research scientist at Pittsburgh, working in Earth upper atmospheric physics and chemistry by designing and building instruments for both laboratory experiments and for flights on sounding rockets and satellites. I moved to the Daytona Beach, FL area upon taking a faculty position at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1998 where I still teach physics.

Peter with a 1-meter telescope

After moving, I soon developed a strong interest in hands-on observational astronomy as a way to increase student interest in science. My first challenge was then to convince anyone that ground-based astronomy could be done from a semi-urban location, so I delved into astro photography as a means of demonstration (a number of my images can be found on “astrobin.com,” search for “erdmanpe”).  The images proved convincing enough to raise funding, and so I developed an Astronomy & Astrophysics undergraduate degree program, along with an observatory system right on campus with a 1-meter telescope (I believe the largest university telescope in the southeast) in order to give students access to state of the art instrumentation for their projects.  The undergraduate A&A program is now one of the largest in the country.”

What made you choose to ‘give back’ to Boettcher through philanthropy?

“I always considered my scholarship to essentially be a loan that I should pay back, with interest, when I could feel financially comfortable doing so. The obvious great need of so many people in these times reminded me of that obligation.”

When you think about giving and your personal philanthropy, what are your priorities?

“Primarily food banks and organizations providing emergency help and disaster relief.”

What does being a part of the Boettcher Scholar community mean to you?

“It reminds me that I’ve been helped by others, and it is my obligation to do what I can with my good fortune. I frequently remind myself and family, “do you realize how lucky we are?”

As an educator and lifelong learner, what is the message you would share with young Boettcher Scholars today, perhaps those in college or early in their careers?

“Remember that there were those you inspired you on your path, and who helped you along it. It is your obligation to society to continue that legacy for those behind you.”

As an alum, did you know you can donate to the Boettcher Foundation Scholarship Program? If you are inspired to do so, your support can help us create additional academic, intellectual, and leadership opportunities for undergraduate Scholars. Learn more here.

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