The University of Montana received a $1.5 million boost Friday, making UM’s College of Education and Human Sciences the gifted education hub of Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Missoula residents and UM graduates Suzanne and Dave Peterson pledged $1.5 million to the school, funding a professorship that will specialize in gifted education and advanced learning in the classroom. The donation will also fund research into how best to motivate gifted children to succeed.

“While a teacher is working with the rest of the classroom, there are students who are absorbing information faster,” explained Peter Knox, the school’s communications director. “But there isn’t the expertise in the common educator to work with the students who are above the norm.”

While this particular area of education is important nationally and in Montana, it’s been underfunded, he said. The Petersons’ gift will allow UM to instruct teachers on how to reach those advanced students in classrooms statewide, and beyond.

The former owners of Missoula’s Quality Supply, the Petersons decided to fund the professorship after seeing the need in their own sons’ education. Suzanne said they were oftentimes frustrated with the lack of time and opportunity her own sons, who were gifted, were given in the classroom. She’s hoping the gift will give future teachers the tools needed to engage with advanced learners, while meeting the needs of all students.

“This will impact every student who studies to be a teacher at the University of Montana,” she said. “They will learn how to teach to all children at their own rate and they will learn that every child doesn’t learn in the same way.”

The donation was announced at a reception at the Phyllis J. Washington Education Center Friday evening. Knox said the Petersons have served on the University of Montana Foundation’s board and have provided scholarships to students. Suzanne also serves on the College of Education and Human Science’s advisory board.

But a few months ago, the couple wanted to make a more committed change.

“The Petersons are very passionate about education,” Knox said. “However, they were at a point where they were looking to do something that was more impactful, that had more longevity.”

Suzanne said they started working with education dean Roberta Evans and came up with the idea. What UM has been able to do with the donation “is beyond our wildest dreams,” she said.

“Missoula has been really good to us,” she said. “The gift gives us an opportunity to give back.”

Reporter Kathryn Haake can be reached at 523-5268 or at kate.haake@missoulian.com.

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