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Dean Jonathan Koppell named next president of Montclair State University

June 8, 2021

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.”

Dean Jonathan Koppell takes a group selfie in front of a staircase packed with Next Generation Service Corps students

Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell snaps a group selfie after the Next Generation Service Corps' Medallion Ceremony on May 4, 2019, at the Student Pavilion on the Tempe campus. The corps, part of the Public Service Academy, is a four-year leadership development program (with a two-year transfer track) where students study their chosen major, engage in practical elements of leadership, learn cross-sector collaboration and take internships each summer working on real issues in the public, private and nonprofit sectors all while pursuing their own chosen social mission. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

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

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From ASU Online to medical school

June 8, 2021

Rigorous courses, in-person labs help Dillard and Reed earn spots in Mayo Clinic, Marshall University programs

Editor's note: This story is featured in the 2021 year in review. This story also appeared in the fall 2021 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

Two recent Arizona State University graduates are on their way to medical school this summer, thanks to the opportunity to earn bachelor’s degrees through ASU Online.

Desiree’ Brionne Dillard earned a degree in biological sciences through ASU Online and will attend Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Scottsdale.

David Reed, who majored in biochemistry, will attend the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University in West Virginia, where he lives.

Dillard and Reed, who both have children and worked while taking classes, say they could not have earned the rigorous prerequisites required without ASU Online.

“I would not be here if that program wasn’t available,” Dillard said. “There is no question that they prepared me well.”

Ara Austin, managing director of online programs in the School of Molecular Sciences, said that ASU Online coursework is exactly the same as the on-campus curriculum.

“Lots of people have this misconception that the online degree is not as rigorous as the on-campus program, and that is simply not true,” she said.

“How they go through the class is different, but the timeline and what they complete in the lab courses are identical.”

ASU Online students must complete their lab experiments in person, either on ASU’s Tempe campus or at institutions near them. The biochemistry degree requires three labs, and students can do all at once over seven days on campus.

“There are certain lab instruments that students have to learn to operate, and they can cost $10,000,” said Austin, who also is a clinical assistant professor and teaches organic chemistry online and in person.

“In organic chemistry, they do infrared spectroscopy, and in biochemistry, they use a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machine.”

Austin, who has been with the online biochemistry program from the beginning, said that administrators assumed most ASU Online students would take their labs near their homes and transfer the credit. But they have found that about 85% of the students prefer to visit ASU’s Tempe campus. (Students were permitted to do labs remotely during the pandemic, but in-person labs have resumed this summer.)

“It gives them an opportunity to connect to their peers and the faculty, and they want to come and be part of our culture because that’s meaningful to them,” she said.

Transferrable to real life

Portrait of ASU Online grad Desiree Brionne Dillard in medical scrubs

Desiree’ Brionne Dillard gained experience as a medical assistant while completing her ASU Online courses. Photo by Jill Richards

Dillard knew from a young age that she wanted to be a doctor, though her journey to medical school took some turns.

“My grandmother worked in a cath lab back when Black women really couldn't become physicians, and my mother also spoke about how she always wished she had attended medical school,” she said.

When Dillard was pursuing her undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Arizona, she became pregnant with her daughter.

“After a rough semester, I sought out guidance from my advisers, and every single one of them discouraged me from applying to medical school. I was told to pursue a different career.

“So I thought, ‘If it’s meant to be, it will happen.’”

She started a career managing energy-efficiency programs for low-income customers at Tucson Electric Power. The utility paid for employees to take classes related to their jobs, so Dillard earned a bachelor's in psychology and an MBA from Grand Canyon University, although business was not her true passion.

“I had started a PhD program and thought, ‘I don’t enjoy this. I want to go to med school,’” she said.

Shortly after giving birth to her son, Dillard moved to Tucson to be closer to family. Her son's father, accepted into the University of Arizona medical school, had been a pre-med student at ASU and was the one who told her about the ASU Online program.

Hearing him discuss his courses got her excited about the field again, so she started taking the science prerequisites she would need to apply to medical school.

“I went to undergrad for four years in person, and I felt like I was learning more at ASU Online just because of the structure and the ability to do things in my own time,” Dillard said.

“You can watch the videos over and over. There were more resources. And the professors were so involved.

“I was blown away by the fact that they have so many opportunities for office hours through Slack and Discord. Someone is always available to help you.”

Dillard worked as a medical assistant while taking classes.

“I learned so much about about patient care, such as how to take a blood pressure reading and patient history, through ASU Online,” she said. “It was completely transferrable to real life, even though it was a virtual setting.”

Dillard said she is interested in specializing in dermatology and pursuing a joint MD-JD through a partnership with ASU's law program.

“I know it’s incredibly ambitious, but I’d like to find a way to incorporate both into my practice,” she said.

“There’s a lot of need for Black women in those areas.”

Powering through

Portrait of ASU Online grad David Reed

David Reed earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from ASU Online and is on his way to medical school. He says he hopes to inspire others. “They can see that someone with kids did it, someone turning 40 did this.” Photo by Jeff Newton

While Dillard had a lifelong dream of attending medical school, Reed had never thought about it until a few years ago, when his infant son was hospitalized with meningitis and he saw the physician at work.

“It was a flashing-neon-light moment, and I started researching how I could get the prerequisites to go to medical school. I kept coming across ASU Online, which was popping up in my Facebook feed. And I realized it was the only option,” he said.

He was working 12-hour shifts at an aluminum mill at the time, so an in-person program was impossible.

Reed had earned a teaching degree at college, which he attended right after high school because he got a scholarship to play golf.

“I wasn’t ready, maturity-wise,” he said.

“I tried a bunch of things. I worked in a lumberyard. I ran my own business. I worked in an aluminum mill. But now I’m finally excited about what I’m doing.”

Reed started taking chemistry and biology courses through ASU Online when his twin sons were 7 months old.

“It was a lot of work. It felt like every spare moment, I was constantly watching a lecture or taking a quiz,” said Reed, who cared for his sons while his wife was at her full-time job.

He failed a chemistry exam and realized that he needed to change his studying methods.

“I had just powered through the material through sheer force of will, and I couldn’t do that anymore,” he said.

“I had to do practice problems because the exams don’t ask for regurgitation. They ask for application. And that mode really prepared me well for the MCATs.”

Things got better.

“It doesn’t stay pedal to the metal because you learn how to be more efficient and budget your time. And the boys began to sleep through the night and feed themselves.”

In the spring of 2020, he quit his job at the aluminum mill to focus on academics. That summer, he took his lab courses at the same time he was studying for the MCATs.

“I would not recommend that,” he said.

Both graduates showed remarkable levels of perseverance in achieving their goals.

“I can’t impress upon everybody how difficult this was,” he said. “You have to decide, ‘Am I going to practice balancing chemical equations instead of watching Netflix?’ You basically give up everything that takes your time, and you reapportion that time into your schooling.”

Reed, 38, was a founding member of the IDEAS Society at ASU, an academic club for online science majors, where he served as the pre-health officer and mentored other students who intend to pursue professional graduate degrees in STEM fields.

“Just being able to talk to other people who are pursuing your degree path and have the same interests as you is a big help,” he said.

A rigorous path

A man sitting in a rocking chair on a porch works on a laptop while wearing headphones

“I tried a bunch of things. I worked in a lumberyard. I ran my own business. I worked in an aluminum mill. But now I’m finally excited about what I’m doing,” David Reed says. Photo by Jeff Newton

Austin said that while Dillard and Reed are the first graduates of ASU Online to get into medical school, many graduates of other universities have taken individual ASU Online courses before being accepted to medical school.

“We’re willing to break the mold of a four-year university to open the door to all learners,” she said.

“Whatever goal they have, we can facilitate that by offering those courses to a wider audience by going online.”

Reed, who is considering specializing in pediatrics or palliative medicine, said he wondered how medical schools would perceive his online degree program.

“I was slightly worried about it until the pandemic. Then everyone finally realized that online is no joke,” he said. “My MCAT score shows that I learned the material and I had a rigorous path.”

Dillard, who will turn 30 the week after she starts medical school in July, said she hopes to show that online degrees open doors.

“I’m a huge advocate for nontraditional students,” she said.

“I questioned it for almost a decade, but now that I’m in this position, I realize that there are resources available and I don’t think I would be here without ASU Online.”

Top photo: Desiree’ Brionne Dillard earned her degree and studied for her MCAT while raising her family. Photo by Jill Richards

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News