His tenure at ASU's Watts College marked by increased student enrollment and diversity, sizable jumps in national rankings
Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, has been named the next president of Montclair State University, a leading public research university in New Jersey situated on a campus 12 miles outside New York City.
Koppell will begin his new position on Aug. 2. He has been with Arizona State University since 2010, when he joined the university as the Lattie and Elva Coor Presidential Chair in Public Administration and Policy and director of the School of Public Affairs. In 2011, Koppell was named dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, then known as the College of Public Programs. In 2020 he was also appointed vice provost of public service and social impact.
“Jonathan has been a transformational leader at ASU, launching innovative programs to serve the public interest, increasing student access and success, advancing diversity among the faculty and college leadership, and greatly enhancing research expenditures and philanthropic support,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “He is a firm believer that public universities play a fundamental role in advancing nearly every aspect of society. I have every confidence that Jonathan will fully apply his lifelong dedication to higher education to further elevating Montclair State University.”
In the last decade, Koppell has led Watts College to new heights. His tenure has been marked by notable milestones of increased student enrollment and diversity; bold initiatives to grow new generations of public servants and tackle some of society’s most pressing issues; fostering new research activity across a broad spectrum of issue areas; achieving sizable jumps in national rankings; and significantly increasing philanthropic giving to support students, faculty and programs to advance societal success.
Home to four schools — Criminology and Criminal Justice, Community Resources and Development, Social Work and Public Affairs — enrollment in Watts College has grown from 3,300 students in 2010 to more than 9,000 students today. Watts is now home to 13 undergraduate programs, 12 master’s degree programs and four doctoral programs, including four novel interdisciplinary degree programs. Watts College is ASU’s most diverse, featuring the highest percentages of all underrepresented minority populations, transfer students, military veterans and first-generation college students. Watts College is rooted in a service mission. Students enrolled in Watts are immersed in hands-on learning, paired with community partners to tackle real-world problems and prepared to play an active role in determining and implementing solutions. Students in Watts College deliver more than half a million hours of community service each year.
These student experiences are derived from Watts College’s deep engagement with communities across Arizona. With the college now boasting more than 20 centers devoted to addressing shared community challenges, Koppell has promoted the vision of the university as source of solutions to the most vexing challenges by spearheading a wide variety of important efforts, including: The Collaboratory at the Westward Ho embeds social services in Section 8 housing; the ASU Action Nexus creates a coordinating force to address homelessness across Maricopa County; Opportunity for Youth is a backbone organization to reach disengaged young people; the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service engages ASU students in electoral politics; the Arizona Governance and Legislative Academy will provide training and research support to the state Legislature, and many more.
In 2015, Koppell led the launch of ASU’s Public Service Academy, a universitywide initiative housed in Watts College. The intention was to prepare the next generation of service-minded graduates through a collaborative leadership development program that trains undergraduates to positively impact society by working across sectors — public, private and nonprofit. At the time of its launch, ASU’s Public Service Academy was the only program of its kind in the country. Crow and his wife, Sybil Francis, have personally contributed to its success, providing key philanthropic support and underscoring its centrality to the ASU mission.
Today, more than 300 undergraduate members of the Next Generation Service Corps — part of the Public Service Academy — representing 148 unique majors have graduated and gone on to work in the public or private sector, while others advance their education through graduate programs. Most significantly, Koppell and PSA forged a partnership with the Volcker Alliance to launch the Next Generation Service Partnership, a national initiative to expand public service learning experiences with the ASU’s Public Service Academy as inspiration and resource. Eight other universities have already joined the partnership, with more waiting in line.
“Jonathan Koppell’s leadership of Watts College has been pivotal during a period of time when we needed to recommit to the notion of public service,” Crow said. “We needed to rebuild trust in public servants by training new generations across multiple sectors in order to better serve our communities and our nation.”
In 2018, Koppell secured one of the largest gifts in ASU history — a $30 million investment from Mike and Cindy Watts, owners of Sunstate Equipment — in concert with ASU leadership. That investment led to the naming of the college and funding of scholarships and professorships — including one devoted to Native American issues — and to support student programs. The gift also launched an initiative dedicated to the revitalization of the Phoenix community where Mike and Cindy Watts grew up, Maryvale. The “One Square Mile Initiative,” the signature effort of the Design Studio for Community Solutions, has allowed Watts College to support and coordinate the robust efforts of community members and civic organizations to improve their communities. In recent weeks, this project helped facilitate provision of broadband access to students in the Isaac Elementary School District leveraging ASU’s technology resources.
“We made the decision to financially endow Watts College because we knew its people, programs and research had the potential to find the right paths toward solving society’s most challenging issues and creating a brighter future. This potential and its fulfillment are directly linked to the tireless dedication of Jonathan Koppell,” Mike and Cindy Watts said in a statement. “Throughout his service as dean, Jonathan has proven his ability to clearly identify the needs of so many different communities and propose solid, realistic solutions using the college’s resources to help meet those needs. Everything he does shows a deep and unwavering concern for underserved populations and for the survival of our democracy. He works tirelessly to further public service as among the worthiest of professions. While we will miss him, we will never forget his devotion to ideas, to solutions and above all, to people, and wish him every success in the future. There is no doubt in our minds that Jonathan will continue his vision and will create stronger communities in his new environment.”
Watts College’s emergence has not gone unnoticed nationally. Its programs rose dramatically in the rankings under Koppell’s leadership. Reflecting the caliber of faculty and leaders who have joined the college, it is now home to the No. 2-ranked school of criminal justice in the nation while the School of Public Affairs reached the top 10 — it was ranked No. 27 when Koppell arrived at ASU — as did nonprofit management, while social work has attained top-25 status.
“I have worked with Jonathan since he came to ASU and ran the search that led to his appointment as dean,” said Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle. “His deep passion for and commitment to service has been exemplified through his tremendous leadership in fostering student success and forging new partnerships to expand other entities’ commitment to service as well. We wish Jonathan all the best in his new role.”
Koppell has made increasing the diversity of faculty, staff and leadership a priority during his time as dean with significant progress in all areas. At the same time there has been consistent support for efforts to identify and rectify sources of bias and exclusion in the college. He was recognized with the Dr. Manuel Servin Faculty Award by the Chicano Faculty and Staff Association for his efforts on promoting success for all students. In recent months, Koppell initiated a “breakfast brainstorm” conversational series to create a venue for the university community to discuss issues of identity, equity and inclusion at ASU.
In the international realm of public service, Koppell leveraged his experience in China to forge a partnership with Hainan University to grow the pipeline of trained professionals in the expanding fields of international tourism, parks and recreation, urban and rural planning and public services. In May, more than 220 students received ASU bachelor’s degrees from the Hainan University-Arizona State University International Tourism College (HAITC) in the southern Chinese city of Haikou. Eighteen more will follow in August, completing the first cohort of a program that began in 2017. More than 1,000 students are enrolled in HAITC, with substantial growth expected with addition of graduate programs. Watts College prizes international engagement emerging as a leading host for the Young African Leaders Institute and similar efforts supporting leaders from Southeast Asia and Latin America.
“I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to be part of an incredible team at ASU,” Koppell said. “The sense of pride I feel in what we have accomplished together in Watts College is enormous. But every initiative, program, innovation came to fruition only by virtue of focused, collaborative effort of many dedicated staff, faculty, students and community partners. Never before have I been part of such a mission-driven organization, and I will take the lessons learned from my extraordinary ASU colleagues with me to Montclair State University.”
Koppell has been deeply engaged in the Phoenix community, serving on multiple boards including chairing the board of the Local First Arizona Foundation for several years and participating as a director of the Arizona Multibank in its merger with CDFI Clearinghouse for whom he now serves as an advisory board member. In recent years, he has emerged as one of the most prominent voices addressing the issue of homelessness in his capacity as president of the Human Services Campus, Inc., the nonprofit organization that runs the 16-agency collaborative campus in downtown Phoenix.
Prior to joining ASU, Koppell was an associate professor of policy and organization at Yale University, where he also led the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance. He was a Fulbright lecturer at Fudan University in Shanghai and a Markle fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Incoming Executive Vice President and Provost Nancy Gonzales thanked Koppell for his contributions to ASU and said an interim dean would be named soon.
“Jonathan’s contributions to ASU and Watts College have been phenomenal,” Gonzales said. “I’m excited to see what the future holds for him at Montclair.”
Top photo by ASU