It all began with a birthday card.
On Sept. 1, G.P. “Bud” Peterson received a card from a surprising fan — a special needs student at South Forsyth High School.
After seeing the effort Morgan Westbrook put into crafting the homemade card, Peterson, president of Georgia Institute of Technology, obliged the 18-year-old’s request to visit her school.
“They just had an instant connection,” said Dana Westbrook, Morgan’s mother.
“Considering she hasn’t stopped talking about it since Sept. 1 — she’ll tell the grocery clerks, the people at the shoe store — it means a lot,” Dana Westbrook.
Peterson began his visit Thursday in Ann Kohler’s special education classroom, meeting with students and learning about how they’re using technology like tablets and computers.
Kohler described the experience as overwhelming.
“I’m actually a science teacher also and I pull a lot of that into my curriculum and we talk about the school and what he does, and so they were all excited to have him come,” she said.
“He’s very giving and caring and a generous person who would come and see a special education student who invited him to come,” Kohler said. “He’s not just about the students who can come to Georgia Tech, he’s about all the students and everyone learning math and science.”
Peterson then headed down the hall to Nick Crowder’s classroom, where technology students were waiting to show off their work in architecture modeling, construction renovation, biotechnology and robotics, among other fields.
“These are engineering students. Georgia Tech is like the holy grail of where they hope to end up one day,” Crowder said. “They were just kind of like, ‘He’s really coming here and we can meet him and touch him?’”
Norris Nicholson was at a loss for words after meeting Peterson, but the student was full of information as he showed off his team’s latest robot.
“I’m hoping to be able to go to Tech, that would be awesome,” he said. “I heard somewhere that he’s interested in robotics and [Crowder] just wanted us to show him around and I think that’s what we did … it was great.”
Peterson said while it’s not as often as he’d like, he does get to visit area schools and meet some prospective Tech students.
“It’s great to come out and see what kids are doing and talk to them a little about college and their aspirations,” he said.
It was quite the contrast going from the special needs classroom to the engineering room, with some of the most advanced math and science students in the school. But in the end, Peterson said they’re more alike than they know.
“There’s really not that much of a difference. These are kids. They’re trying to figure out what to do with their life,” he said. “They’re all thinking about their future and it’s just great.”