Remembering Lorna Peterson

Lorna Peterson worked for Five Colleges for 29 years, 19 as executive director. She had a tremendous impact on the breadth of offerings of the Consortium.

Upon Lorna Peterson's retirement, Five Colleges initiated the Lorna Peterson Prize, given each year to a student on a member campus who demonstrates commitment to collaboration in their academic career. She's shown here with the 2018 recipient, Amherst student Alex Watson (far right) and his faculty sponsor Maria Heim of Amherst (far left), along with Five College Executive Director Sarah Pfatteicher.

Five Colleges Mourns Passing of Longtime Leader Lorna Peterson

Lorna Peterson, a woman with white hair
Former Five College Executive Director Lorna Peterson. 


Lorna Peterson, whose career at Five Colleges, Incorporated (FCI) spanned 29 years, died on March 16. Peterson began work at the consortium in 1980 and served as executive director from 1990 to 2009, when she retired. 

The Five College Consortium–composed of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges and UMass Amherst—saw significant growth in its programing during Peterson’s tenure. Of the 17 academic certificate programs currently offered to students, 11 were initiated on her watch. In addition, FCI started the Center for World Languages–which offers instruction in 40 less-commonly-taught languages; created risk management and captive insurance programs for the campuses; and built a 54-mile, high-speed Internet network linking campuses and communities in the Five College area to a major hub in Springfield. 

Upon her retirement in 2009, former FCI treasurer Jean Stabell was quoted as saying of Peterson’s tenure: “Life was rarely calm and quiet at the office – we were all trying to dream harder.”

Beyond the Valley, Peterson also served as a leader among higher education consortia nationally, within the Association for Collaborative Leadership (ACL). Lawrence Dotolo, who was president of ACL when Peterson retired, said at the time: “Lorna Peterson has for many years been one of the essential driving forces behind the consortia movement in higher education, in the United States and abroad. Her visionary approach, her intellectual capacity and her ability to articulate the effort makes her, quite frankly, among the best of all of us in this field.”

Upon her retirement, Five Colleges initiated the Lorna Peterson Prize, given each year to a student on a member campus who demonstrates commitment to collaboration in their academic career. She delighted in returning to the FCI offices each spring to meet the winning student. 

Current FCI Executive Director Sarah Pfatteicher recalls beginning a friendship with Peterson when she arrived in 2018. “I feel blessed that I was able to get to know Lorna in the years since I arrived here,” said Pfatteicher. “She was friendly and engaging, with a big personality; a person who seemed to know everyone in the Valley. Supporting women leaders was critically important to Lorna, and it was an effort she remained active with throughout her retirement.”

In 2012 Peterson was a recipient of the “Standing on Her Shoulders” award from the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts given to “risk-takers and innovators in our counties who, through their determination and leadership. have increased opportunities and blazed trails."

The 16 years that Gregory Prince served as Hampshire College’s president fell entirely within Peterson’s tenure as executive director at Five Colleges. “I cannot imagine being a college president without Five Colleges and without Lorna Peterson,” he recalled upon her 2009 retirement. “Fortunately I never had to face such a reality. Higher education would be far stronger in this country if more college and university presidents had their own Five Colleges and Lorna Petersons.”