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Highly respected scholars named as first Watts Endowed Professors

Social work, public affairs professors are among a total of 5 to be named


Watts College, sign, Arizona State University
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January 19, 2022

The first two of five Watts Endowed Professors, funded from the 2018 Watts family gift to the college, have been named by the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Both will start work in August 2022.

Renee Cunningham-Williams and Maryann Feldman will join the School of Social Work and the School of Public Affairs, respectively, said Watts College Dean and President’s Professor Cynthia Lietz.

In 2018, Mike and Cindy Watts, founders of the Phoenix-based Sunstate Equipment Co., made a $30 million investment in the college, which today bears their name. A portion of the gift was earmarked for endowments that would provide funding to attract and retain senior scholars across the spectrum of public service.

Lietz said that the first two Watts Professorships will build on the college’s deep commitment to social justice and public policy.

“Dr. Renee Cunningham-Williams and Dr. Maryann Feldman are committed scholars who have demonstrated excellence in their respective fields,” Lietz said. “To have these two distinguished scholars join the college will contribute substantial thought leadership as we seek to build more vibrant, healthy communities. I am thrilled to welcome Renee and Maryann to Watts College!”

Renee Cunningham-Williams

Cunningham-Williams is currently on faculty in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work (Brown School) at Washington University in St. Louis. As the Watts Endowed Professor of Social Work, she will also become the School of Social Work’s first-ever associate director for faculty development. 

, Watts Professor, School of Social Work, Washington University, ASU

Renee Cunningham-Williams

She is an internationally recognized authority in the study of problem gambling, substance use and abuse, and mental and behavioral health, particularly among African American youth and emerging adults. Cunningham-Williams has dedicated a large portion of her research over the last 25 years into the prevention and intervention of all of these concerns in her efforts to help youth make a successful transition into adulthood.

Cunningham-Williams also is director of a National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded Transdisciplinary Training in Addictions Research pre- and postdoctoral training program at Washington University.

She earned three social work degrees — a Bachelor of Social Work from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and a Master of Social Work and a PhD from the Brown School. She also earned a postgraduate master’s degree in psychiatric epidemiology from Washington University's School of Medicine. A lifelong learner, she recently completed her faculty sabbatical year as a Dean’s Scholar in the Juris Doctor degree program at St. Louis University's School of Law.

Maryann Feldman

Feldman is joining the School of Public Affairs as the Watts Endowed Professor of Public Affairs. She is currently on faculty in the Department of Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as its S.K. Heninger Distinguished Professor of Public Policy. She is also an adjunct professor of finance at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and a research director at its Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.

, Watts Endowed Professor, School of Public Affairs, ASU

Maryann Feldman

Her research and teaching interests focus on innovation, the commercialization of academic research and factors that promote technological change and economic growth.

Feldman won the 2013 Global Award for Entrepreneurship Research for her contributions to the study of the geography of innovation and the role of entrepreneurial activity in the formation of regional industry clusters. From 2014 to 2017, she held a joint appointment at the National Science Foundation as director of the Science of Science Innovation Policy Program, and she chaired an interagency working group on science policy.

She currently is co-chair of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s congressionally mandated study of the Small Business Innovation Research program. 

Feldman has written extensively on the early development and growth of biotechnology as an example of a transformative technology. 

She holds a PhD in economics and management from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she also earned a Master of Science in management and policy analysis. Her Bachelor of Arts in economics and geography is from Ohio State University.

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