Debianne and Robert Peterman Pay It Forward with a New Scholarship at GSU

Debianne Peterman was an 18-year-old bride when she gave birth to her son Joshua. Doctors diagnosed the newborn with a Group B strep infection and immediately spirited the little boy into a special care nursery in another area of the hospital. The new mother, left to recover in the orthopedics ward, swore that if she ever had anything to say about it, mothers and babies would never be separated.

When Joshua was a toddler, Peterman flipped through a Georgia State University catalog, looking for appealing classes. She was drawn to the nursing program, which then allowed students to earn an associate’s degree, become licensed RNs, and later return to complete a full bachelor’s degree in nursing. Her first marriage was falling apart, but the newly single mother stuck with the nursing program, completing her degree with the support of scholarship funding.

Debianne Peterman“I owe Georgia State my career,” says Peterman, now vice president and chief nursing officer for Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, New York, the very hospital where she was born. She serves a dual role, overseeing nursing education and professional practice for Kaleida Health, the largest health care provider in Western New York.

Peterman and her husband, Robert, recently committed a planned gift to the Byrdine F. Lewis School of Nursing and Health Professions, sponsoring an endowed scholarship to be awarded with a preference to single parents who maintain a GPA of 3.5 or more.

“I really believe GSU shaped me,” she continues. “The professors I had, the environment of being in downtown Atlanta, being exposed to the legislature and the downtown businesses and everything that was going on. It gave me a passion for being community minded, politically minded and aware of how of this all connected health care to the community.”

A few years later Peterman sought a master’s degree from Emory, following the convention that one should never get all their degrees from one school. But 17 years later, when it was time for her to pursue her doctoral degree, GSU was the only school she considered. She’s proud to be a “triple Panther,” and her doctoral diploma hangs on her office wall with an etching of the school, the focus of the room.  “I never did anything the easy way, and I know there are a lot of people in the same situation.”

She remained committed to the school, giving of her time as president of the Alumni Association Board as well as the advisory board for the then–College of Health and Human Sciences. After accepting a professional position in Nashville, she returned to Atlanta for every meeting, something even locally based members couldn’t muster.

“Debianne has put her heart and soul into Georgia State, and we are especially grateful for her financial commitment as well as her time and energy,” says Margaret Wilmoth, dean of the school. “This planned gift allows us to provide financial assistance to future health care student parents who are striving to make life better for themselves and their families and the patients they aspire to serve.”

Peterman has a vision for the future of nursing at GSU. “I would like to see the nursing program ranked in the top 25,” she says. “I would like to see a center of excellence for nursing be developed at GSU.  The university is right in the heart of Atlanta, and you’ve got everything within a few miles ― the Centers for Disease Control and GSU’s programs in law, nutrition, public health, urban policy, and even criminal justice. Everything necessary to provide a multidisciplinary curriculum. When we are not doing education in silos, but really teaching people right from the get-go how to work in teams around a patient, I think that would be ideal.”