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Staff / Board of Directors

Barbara Peterson

Executive Director

Barbara Peterson’s career path has been interesting, to say the least. She has worked as a policy analyst for Interamerica studying the social service needs of migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Yakima Valley; a bus driver (and proud member of the Amalgamated Transit Union) for Metro Transit in Seattle; a senior financial analyst at BankAmerica; an analyst of higher education policy at the Higher Education Coordinating Board; and Director of LASER (Lawyers and Students Engaged in Resolution) for the Office of the Attorney General. And that’s only a partial list. Since 1999 she has been a director, now Executive Director of ALTERA, formerly NLA Group, an educational nonprofit located in Wapato on the Yakama reservation in the Yakima Valley in Washington State.

Born in Miami Beach, Barbara has spent most of her life in Seattle. She currently commutes weekly between her homes in Wapato and Des Moines—the one near Seattle, not the one in Iowa. She has been to all but six of the US States, and to 24 countries, putting her well-traveled feet on the ground of every continent except South America and Antarctica.

What Barbara finds most inspiring about her job is seeing, every day, how hard parents work to help their children succeed. She is proud of her role in launching so many young rural professionals into meaningful and satisfying jobs. Barbara’s lifetime goal is to help the US educational system to become more nimble, more humane, and smarter to meet the needs of children of every economic and cultural background.

An enthusiastic cyclist, Barbara has completed the Seattle-to-Portland ride four times. She also teaches spin and barbell aerobic classes and enjoys knitting whenever she feels the urge to sit down and catch her breath. She is married to Bill O’Donnell, a resourceful, and charming native of Liverpool, England. They are the parents to two grown children, Annie and Leo. 


Career Profile

25 years’ experience developing programs preparing rural students from disadvantaged backgrounds for postsecondary opportunities.   Efforts include program design, district partnerships, grant writing ($132 million dollars over 20 years) for college outreach, remedial and enrichment afterschool programs and PreK curricula, serving more than 30 school districts in 80 buildings throughout rural Washington State.   Positioning ALTERA as a program innovator and contributor to research on rural educational best practices.

Twenty years nonprofit management with annual budgets up to $5 million.   


Ed.D. Education, Leadership for Learning, College of Education
University of Washington, Seattle, WA. 2015

M.A. Public Administration/Policy
University of Washington, Evans School, Seattle, WA. 1983

B.A. Political Science
University of Washington, Seattle, WA. 1972

Key Qualifications

30+ years of experience policy, program development and partnerships in higher education and K-12 building innovative programming to support underrepresented students’ ability to reach ambitious goals.

Innovative Program Design resulting in receipt of more than $130 million in highly competitive grants for individual and consortia of rural school districts for college outreach, afterschool and summer enrichment programming.

Experienced nonprofit management – Co-founder of an educational nonprofit with more than 20 years success in the challenging environment of rural nonprofit educational programming.

Innovator in K-12, policies and practices, collaborating with a broad network of rural education superintendents, principals and administrators.


Professional Work in Education

  • Executive Director  ALTERA Educational Nonprofit
    • Leading, Supervising, Research, Program Design, Partnerships, Grant Writing and Supervision, 2010 to present as Executive Director, 1999- 2010 as Director, Wapato WA. ALTERA.  Oversee nonprofit, build partnerships, write and implement grant programs for STEM, college outreach, afterschool and remediation.  Develop the agency into an innovative rural education leader. Served more than 60 schools in 26 districts in 9 rural Washington State counties.

  • Executive Director – Lawyers and Students Engaged in Resolution 1998-2000
    • Recruited, trained and supervised volunteer attorneys in school-based peer mediation programs, under auspices of the Washington State Attorney General, Washington State Bar Association, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • Policy Analyst, Public Information Officer, Legislative Liaison, 1987-99
    • Higher Education Coordinating Board. Reviewed new doctoral program proposals, engaged in policy work for 3 strategic plans, oversaw college outreach statewide demonstration project; completed a K-12/Higher Education statewide technology plan.
    • Division Manager/Europe, BankAmerica Travelers Cheques, San Francisco, 1984-85; Senior Financial Analyst, 1981-84 Provided fiscal and operations support for global international banking operations.
  • Budget Analyst, King County Metro Transit, 1978-80. Trained managers in budget building, monitored and oversaw $8 million budgets for divisions.

Publications/Conference Presentations

Canadian Engineering Educators Association, Vancouver, Canada 2018
Workshop: “STEM in 3 Acts: Real World Middle School STEM experimentation”

Central Washington University, Education Equity Conference Ellensburg, 2018, “Wordless Picture Books: Culturally Responsive Home Literacy Training with Migrant Families:  A Strategy for engaging literate and nonliterate families.”

GEAR UP Presentation, San Francisco, 2017, Student Planning Graphic Organizers, “Storyboards” for student and family postsecondary planning.

ASEE (American Society of Engineering Educators PNW Region), Boise, ID 2016
White paper presentation: “Engineering for Middle School Rural Learners - Learning then Earning Digital Badges”

Peabody Journal, “Rural Students in Washington State: STEM as a Strategy for Building Rigor, Postsecondary Aspirations, and Relevant Career Opportunities,” Peterson, 2015.

AASA Journal:  “Rural Districts as STEM Pacesetters”; “Bridging the STEM Gap for Rural Students”. 2017, AASA.

Washington Education Research Association WERA: “Engaging newcomer students and struggling EL readers in a dialogue of learning using students’ lived experience to inform the classroom and curricula” with Dr. Bruno Cross, December 2018. “Leading with Nonpositional Authority,” December 2015.  “Examples of Gap Closing Instruction,” December 2013;

Research Background: IRB-qualified researcher.