Interview with Dr. Rolf Peterson

We took a few minutes to talk with Dr. Peterson to learn about his time at GW.

Q: Where did you grow up?

Dr. Peterson: I graduated from Berlin High School (Berlin, WI) and then entered the Navy. My experiences in the Navy with a large amount of unusual behavior among my peers led me to start reading psychology and, ultimately to my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology. I entered Oshkosh State College (now University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh) after spending three years in the Navy.

Graduate school was difficult for me. I was married and had two children during years at U. Iowa – lots of family joy and good memories. On the other hand, I did not do well my first year in grad school and was on probation and then later failed my first dissertation defense (took a year to get over that but decided to push onward).

Q: When did you start here at GW?

Dr. Peterson: I came to GWU in August 1986.

Q: You’ve taken on many roles during your years in the Department including serving as the Director of Clinical Training, which has been your favorite?

Dr. Peterson: My favorite role was as the mentor for students completing their master thesis and dissertations. I think my greatest joy was being able to hood my students at the hooding ceremony. A very close second was teaching – both undergraduate and graduate courses. I enjoyed being DOCT not so much for the day to day stressors but seeing the program grow and being involved in hiring the new, outstanding clinical faculty we have today. Least favorite by far was doing the APA Accreditation reports and to some extent the accreditation visits – very nervous times.

Q: What is your perspective on the department and how it has changed over the years?

Dr. Peterson: The department is totally different now than when I arrived in 1986. The clinical program faculty is now a highly productive, and grant getting, great teaching faculty. Also the clinical program now has a very active clinical center run by Dr. Risa Broudy.  The Meltzer Center has developed and grown significantly which has allowed the applied clinical training for the first two years of program to be fully integrated into the clinical program curriculum.

It has not just been the clinical program that changed. When I arrived we had 5 Ph.D. programs with limited resources and now have 3 (Clinical, Cog, and Applied Social) robust, strong, and well supported programs. Each program is now nationally recognized and all faculty members are proud of our outstanding Ph.D. programs.

Q: What are your most memorable moments at GWU?

Dr. Peterson: Each successful dissertation defense (I was honored to have done this 80 times in my career), I also had the joy of seeing many of my undergraduate independent research students and students from advanced classes be admitted to graduate school, medical school and law school. Many of these students keep in close touch with me and that leads to a lot of satisfaction about teaching and mentoring undergraduates. Career-wise, being a member of the first group to become Board Certified in Clinical Health Psychology was a significant career step for me. I served on the Board of Directors for many years and did many exams for the board. A big honor was receiving an “Outstanding leadership and Dedication to Board Certification Award from the American Board of Clinical Health Psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology.

To learn about the Department of Psychology fundraising initiative in honor of Dr. Peterson, please visit our information page.

Rolf A. Peterson Scholarship