Donations to Watts College during Campaign ASU 2020 total about $70 million, surpassing goal of $60 million


January 28, 2021

Donors gave about $70 million over the past 10 years to expand Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions’ programs, support its students, increase its research impact and drive its community service.

The total surpassed Watts College’s goal of $60 million set in 2010 for the decadelong Arizona State University fundraising drive Campaign ASU 2020, said Matt Ingram, the college’s senior director of development. Watts College, sign, Arizona State University Download Full Image

The college fundraising total’s largest component was Mike and Cindy Watts’ 2018 gift of $30 million to the college that now bears their last name.

The Watts investment will have tremendous and long-lasting impact on the futures of hundreds of students; the research, teaching and service of dozens of faculty members; and the improved lives of thousands of residents of the community beyond Arizona State University’s campuses.

Though they differed in amounts, monetary and in-kind gifts to the Watts College throughout the campaign were made with the same aim: to help the college fulfill its mission to “be the solution” to society’s many challenges and thus make the world a better place. According to Ingram, many of the donations over the decade totaled less than $100 apiece – but the collective impact was significant.

Here are a few highlights of Watts College-based programs supported by the last 10 years of giving:

  • The $30 million gift in October 2018 from Mike and Cindy Watts, who grew up in the west Phoenix community of Maryvale, is furthering ASU’s mission to increase access to higher education and to partner with the community. The gift included the launch of an comprehensive, long-term initiative to catalyze and support community development in Maryvale, a neighborhood in the city of Phoenix that is generally lower income, struggling with educational attainment, but highly diverse and youthful.
  • After spending most of his life living with the effects of muscular dystrophy, 1997 School of Criminology and Criminal Justice (SCCJ) graduate Christopher Rearley passed away in December 2007 at age 33. His parents, Carolyn and Bob Rearley, honored him and the field he studied by hosting an annual poker tournament. In 12 years it raised more than $130,000 for SCCJ students with disabilities — the school’s largest scholarship endowment ever, according to school officials.
  • The Florence Eckstein Social Work Fellowship, for students pursuing a Master of Social Work degree, is named for Phoenix native Florence Eckstein, former publisher and executive editor of the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix (1981-2013). It is awarded each fall through the generous support of Paul and Florence Eckstein.
  • An initial grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust created the Bridging Success program in 2015. Dozens of students who at one time were in the state foster care system are involved in the program, designed to help them through challenges particular to their experiences and achieve their goals of receiving an ASU degree. 
  • ASU alumnus Todd Lemay was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a brittle-bone disease that has led him to use a wheelchair for most of his life. Lemay was on the hunt for an all-terrain wheelchair and stumbled upon a company in the United Kingdom named TerrainHopper, an electrically powered off-road mobility vehicle that can conquer the type of challenging terrain a normal wheelchair can’t. He requested licensing, manufacturing and U.S. distribution rights. Lemay opened his own shop in Tempe in 2017 as TerrainHopperUSA. Lemay donated a TerrainHopper — they start at $18,000 — to the Watts College so that other students with disabilities can participate in outdoor adventures alongside their able-bodied counterparts.
  • When the Watts College-based Public Service Academy (PSA) debuted in 2015, its intention was to educate the next generation of public servants. At the time, it was the only program of its kind in the country, supported by a $1.2 million gift from ASU President Michael Crow and his wife, Sybil Francis. A new partnership between Watts College and the Volcker Alliance is helping other universities establish their own academies. The college and the alliance recently launched the Next Generation Service Partnership. Four other universities are working to establish programs of their own in 2021.
  • Students with a passion for public service can apply to be one of the Cantelme Scholars, named for retired Phoenix Fire Capt. Pat Cantelme, who is co-founder, president and chairman of the board of the CDH Charitable Foundation. The Cantelme Scholars program resides within the Public Service Academy.
  • Laura Orr, the student and academic services manager of the School of Social Work, retired in 2018 after devoting 47 years of service to the university. The Laura Orr Memorial Scholarship Fund directly supports students studying for bachelor’s or master’s degrees in social work.
  • The Spirit of Service Scholars program honors outstanding students from all disciplines who are passionate about public service leadership and advocacy. Selected students receive a $5,000 scholarship and engage in public service leadership through a year-round program administered by the Watts College-based Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service.
  • The Marvin Andrews Fellowship in Urban Management, named for the respected former Phoenix city manager, benefits selected students pursuing a master’s degree in urban management. Fellows receive a tuition waiver for four fall/spring semesters, an annual stipend of $15,000, health insurance and financial support to assist with travel to annual conferences.
  • In December, the family of Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell capped off the campaign by creating a scholarship fund in the name of his grandmothers. Read about them and the fund here.

Material for summaries of supported programs is from earlier stories by Mark Scarp of Watts College, Marshall Terrill of ASU Now and Jane Lee of ASU Enterprise Partners.

Retired movie producer pursues master's degree from ASU Online, sets sights on helping next generation of storytellers


January 28, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Retired movie producer Mark Wolfe didn’t always want to pursue a career in the filmmaking industry. From a young age he wanted to become a doctor, but everything changed when he was 16 years old.  Mark Wolfe This spring, retired movie producer Mark Wolfe will receive his master’s degree in advanced study in film and media from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. Download Full Image

“The local TV station decided to come and do a documentary film at my high school. They asked for volunteers to intern on the set and those selected would get to miss three days of classes. So I raised my hand,” Wolfe said. “The first day we filmed 14 hours and it was life-changing. I went home and told my mom, ‘I don't want to be a doctor. I want to be a movie producer.’”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in communication, film and television production from the University of Texas at Austin in 1984, Wolfe did exactly that, working on well-known films including “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “Fargo,” “Notting Hill” and “The Usual Suspects.” 

For 35 years, Wolfe continued to work in filmmaking. Now, he’s taking on his third act — earning his master’s degree and becoming an educator.

This spring, Wolfe will receive his master’s degree of advanced study in film and media studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. Afterward, he hopes to combine his real-world experience with his newly acquired knowledge to teach the next generation of filmmakers.

“Getting a master's degree is an important part of furthering the academic side of my education,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of practical education as I’ve worked in the business forever, but there's a lot of academia associated with the film industry, everything from research to theory, and that's really fascinating to me and important to learn.”

Wolfe said as filmmaking continues to evolve with technology and with other challenges due to COVID-19, he believes storytelling will always persist and he’s eager to see what's next.

“People who want to tell stories, they're doing it for a reason,” he said. “They want to present a common theme of humanity that resonates with at least one other person and hopefully millions upon millions of people. Therefore it's irrelevant the medium, and it's always been irrelevant. We're changing now because of COVID. Who knows what's going to happen to movie theaters. But the desire and need to tell stories won’t die, the delivery method will just be different.”

Wolfe shared what surprised him most about returning to school and what’s next for him. 

Question: What inspired you to pursue a master’s degree from ASU?

Answer: I've been mentored by a lot of people in my career. You can't make it in Hollywood whatsoever without mentors and it really helped me get to where I've gotten to. Throughout my career I have also mentored people and I really want to keep doing it. So I thought the third act of my career could be teaching. 

Q: What is something that has surprised you about your program?

A: I had never had an opportunity to focus on the vast amount of academic research that goes into the industry that I've spent my life in. It's not just reviews of movies or film analysis. There's a tremendous amount of academic study that breaks down the hows and the whys of audiences and filmmaking. We're all storytellers in my business. So I've always told stories as part of my job, but I've learned so much from ASU and from the program about what that means from a humanistic perspective. That's really been fascinating, the science of it.

Q: Have you encountered any challenges during your time in the master’s degree program? How did you overcome them?

A: The technology was something I had to get used to. When I was a freshman in college, Jimmy Carter was president of the United States and no one had heard the word internet. Things were completely different, everything was in person. So I had to start participating in classes through this new medium and find ways to make that work. Learning in an online situation has required a different kind of self discipline.

Q: What advice do you have for professionals like yourself who are interested in returning to higher education?

A: The biggest advice I have is to actually do it. It's wonderful to expand your knowledge. We all have to grow and change. It's phenomenal to have an opportunity to learn new things and then to apply that practical knowledge to your career. It’s also fascinating to get exposure to younger people from all over the world, that keeps it fresh and interesting. Another piece of advice would be to not fear the technology. The technology that ASU uses is extremely user-friendly. With minimum effort you can learn to navigate it well and you can actually gain things from it that you might not have with an in-person experience. 

Q: What are your plans after you complete your program?

A: When I first started the program, I thought I would pursue lecturing opportunities at local colleges here where I live in Los Angeles. COVID and my online experiences have really changed that and have shown me that I can teach and work in different kinds of capacities online and in different environments. I have an opportunity to reach schools and institutions that maybe wouldn’t normally have been able to connect with someone with a lot of Hollywood experience. But with the online capabilities I can reach them. So my goal is to teach younger people who want to be storytellers and work in Hollywood as I have, and try to share with them whatever it is I can share with them. I want to be an asset to any place that I can.

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences