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Philanthropic gift establishes Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

October 1, 2018

An Arizona State University college that is preparing the next generation of public leaders is poised to further its impact on Arizona’s communities thanks to a transformational gift from a Phoenix couple.

During the Community Solutions Festival on the Downtown Phoenix campus Monday, ASU announced the historic renaming of its public service college to the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions — capturing the legacy of longtime ASU supporters Cindy and Mike Watts, founders of Sunstate Equipment Co.

One of the largest gifts in the history of ASU, the $30 million investment by Cindy and Mike Watts demonstrates a continuation of their commitment to advancing the prosperity of Arizona by harnessing the power of the university and its broad array of programs to transform neighborhoods, cities and the state.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the Watts for their unwavering and continued commitment to higher education and their spirit of giving that has led us to this significant moment,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “This revolutionary gift ushers in a new era of excitement about the possibilities that higher education can bring to underserved communities and students. The Watts are lockstep with our mission of embracing the communities we serve and taking full responsibility for their long-term success.”

ASU’s mission is to provide solutions to the issues facing our communities, our state and our nation. Working at the forefront of societal challenges and trends, the College of Public Service and Community Solutions is a unique, comprehensive public affairs college best positioned to advance the Watts’ vision of transforming communities by providing a collaborative, hands-on approach to developing solutions to problems and creating new pathways for student success. Beyond the mere study of these issues, the Watts’ generosity will embed students, faculty and staff in communities to address local problems.

“To me it’s really important to offer the opportunity for every human being to meet their potential,” said Cindy Watts. “We are all humans; we all want the same things — we all want to be happy, free of suffering, and we need one another. Programming within the college touches so many aspects of everyday life. We are so honored to have a chance to support community-based solutions to meet the needs of our local students, families and neighborhoods.”

Emerging, innovative new programs will be funded because of the Watts’ generosity, including a key initiative to revitalize the community where the Watts grew up, Maryvale. Named the “Maryvale Revitalization Project and One Square Mile Initiative,” the project will formalize a collaboration between the college’s academic units and community leaders to provide embedded and concentrated community services with the intent of bolstering local entrepreneurial efforts and community engagement activities in a designated square-mile zone.

The goal of this initiative will be to increase youth engagement with arts, culture, sciences and sports; increase positive human and environmental health outcomes; increase enrollment in post-secondary education and decrease the number of youth and young adults who commit crime. All of this will be done in collaboration with the local community through town hall meetings and surveys to determine which efforts are most effective.

Maryvale has the lowest median age of any community in the city of Phoenix. It also has the second-highest percentage of residents living below the poverty line, 34 percent. Compared with both the surrounding city and county, Maryvale residents have lower levels of education and achieve lower test scores. Compared with all Maricopa County residents, Maryvale has triple the number of residents without a high school diploma, 39 percent vs.13 percent for the county. 

“I have always felt that giving people a reason to be optimistic, to believe in dreams is important,” Mike Watts said about helping the Maryvale community. “Part of the initiative that we hope to work with the college on is the development of that, a belief system, not just in themselves but in the opportunities that exist in the U.S. and in Maryvale. As a result, if you can create entrepreneurial programs and support them in their beliefs, it’s a good thing.”

The investment by the Watts will fund five endowed professorships that will allow the college to attract established scholars who are focused on community development, public policy, criminal justice and child well-being.

Funding will also focus on many student-driven programs, including:

  • Spirit of Service Scholars, the college’s flagship program that provides in-depth policy and leadership training to students from across ASU. Scholars in this program will support community outreach and engagement in Maryvale and provide mentorship at Maryvale high schools.
  • Community Solutions Co-op, a service-learning initiative that provides learning opportunities and community impact labs where students work to resolve local community issues.
  • Student Social Entrepreneurship Fund, which offers seed money to students with promising entrepreneurial solutions to social challenges.
  • Undergraduate Research Program, where students team up with professors on research that examines societal challenges, gaining valuable research, presentation and publication experience.

Prioritized for Arizona first-generation students, the student access and success endowment provides flexible funding for tuition and transformative experiences such as study abroad and internships. New goals for this program include increasing enrollment and retention of Arizona’s first-generation students and increasing participation in coaching and career services tailored to first-generation students.

“We’re proud to have the largest percentage of first-generation students at Arizona State University,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. “It underscores the shared benefit of ensuring that all Arizonans have access to quality higher education. This investment will help us prepare them to pursue careers of public service, making a difference in their communities.”

The Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions includes some of the highest-rated programs at ASU including the School of Public Affairs, ranked number nine in the country, and the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice (No. 5). The college is also home to the School of Social Work and the School of Community Resources and Development and features 20 research centers including the Morrison Institute for Public Policy and the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation. The college provides 13 undergraduate and 23 graduate degree programs to over 7,000 students. 

A point of pride for the college is that it is home to ASU’s most diverse student body, with the highest percentages of minority, college transfer, employed students, veterans and first-generation students. The college also boasts the Public Service Academy, the nation’s first leadership program where students receive leadership training and experience to work across the public, private, nonprofit and military sectors.  

“Mike and Cindy Watts embody the guiding principles of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions,” said ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig. “They are deeply engaged in the community and dedicated to addressing social problems, serving as agents of change for the solutions we want to see in the world. Their transformational investment and leadership will shape the future of public service education.”

The Watts founded Sunstate Equipment Co. in Arizona in 1977, a highly successful equipment rental company that expanded to 10 other states. The Watts are lifetime members of the ASU President’s Club, and their generosity has touched many units and students across ASU through the years. Recently, the Watts Center for Academic Excellence and Championship Life stood up to help student-athletes succeed. Cindy is a member of Women & Philanthropy, an ASU Foundation engagement program. The Watts were also named Philanthropists of the Year by the ASU Alumni Association for contributing to the growth and evolution of ASU.

Paul Atkinson, College of Public Service and Community Solutions
Phone: 602-496-0001
Email: paul.atkinson@asu.edu

About ASU
Arizona State University has developed a new model for the American Research University, creating an institution that is committed to access, excellence and impact. ASU measures itself by those it includes, not by those it excludes. As the prototype for a New American University, ASU pursues research that contributes to the public good, and ASU assumes major responsibility for the economic, social and cultural vitality of the communities that surround it.

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