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Bart Peterson

BA 1980, Political Science
JD 1983, University of Michigan Law School

SVP, Corporate Affairs & Communication, Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis, IN

Many know Bart Peterson’s name from his two terms as mayor of Indianapolis from 2000 to 2007, during which he won Harvard's Innovations in American Government Award in 2006 and served as president of the National League of Cities in 2007. But his record of public service doesn’t end there. In his current role as senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications at Eli Lilly and Company, he’s still trying to improve the lives of those in his community and farther afield. Along with his work in Indianapolis, he recently volunteered for a trip to Peru as a member of Lilly’s in-house international service program, Connecting Hearts Abroad.

Public service, however, also has its glamorous moments. One of Peterson’s “was speaking to a small group while Meryl Streep was filming me. I want to say that again: ‘Meryl Streep was filming me!’” he emphasizes. “She was only ten feet away with a handheld video camera. As mayor, I was dedicating a sculpture created by her husband that had been commissioned for a building in downtown Indianapolis.”

Purdue Influences

I switched from the Krannert School to the School of Humanities, Social Science, and Education in my junior year. I took a substantial number of political science classes in my last two years in order to meet the requirements for a major. My political science professors were the best teachers I ever studied with. They inspired me to achieve more than I thought I was capable of, and helped me to get on the path that I ultimately pursued in public life.

Purdue Memories

The uncomfortable bench seats in Mackey Arena that kept the crowd on its feet and made it such a tough place for the visiting team to play!

Purdue Now

I’m pleased that I found a niche in this huge university—the Political Science Department—where I felt at home and could pursue my passion for public policy and public affairs.

Greatest Achievement

My greatest achievement has been to have a number of interesting “careers” and avoid a very narrow professional life.

Person I Admire

Nelson Mandela held on to hope in a hopeless situation and emerged without bitterness to lead a campaign for reconciliation. I have felt this way about him since reading his autobiography many years ago, but I had the opportunity just a couple of months ago to visit Robben Island off of Cape Town, where he was imprisoned for 18 years and literally spent his daylight hours breaking rocks in the hot sun.

Idea of Perfect Happiness

A dinner party with a dozen of my favorite people.

What I’m Reading

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region, by Joe Studwell; Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman; and The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.

Profession I’d Like to Try

Global health. I have the opportunity to work with many global health experts and people who have devoted their lives to serving those in greatest need in developing countries. If I was starting over, and couldn't relive the life I've had, this would be a very rewarding alternative career. (Editor’s note: The photo above shows Peterson purchasing a knitted table mat from a woman who lived in a house with no roof in the vast low-income community of Villa El Salvador in Lima, Peru, as part of a Connecting Hearts Abroad trip in August 2012.)