Highly respected scholars named as first Watts Endowed Professors

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

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. Watts College, sign, Arizona State University Download Full Image

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.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Latino public policy expert joins ASU as associate professor

January 19, 2022

This fall marks Francisco Pedraza’s first semester at Arizona State University. A new associate professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies (SPGS), Pedraza comes to ASU from the University of California, Riverside, where he held the position of assistant professor.

“I’m delighted to be at ASU and the School of Politics and Global Studies,” said Pedraza. “There is a tremendous amount of energy here, and the opportunity to leave a lasting impact feels real and very promising.” Francisco Pedraza, Arizona State University associate professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies, wearing jeans and a blazer outside on the Tempe campus. Francisco Pedraza, associate professor in ASU's School of Politics and Global Studies. Download Full Image

Pedraza received his PhD in political science from the University of Washington in 2010. His research focuses on political attitude formation and political behavior, with a special emphasis on ethnic minorities in the United States.

In addition to his involvement with the school as a whole, Pedraza is also the associate director of the Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research (CLAPR).

“I am thrilled that Francisco Pedraza has joined SPGS," said Magda Hinojosa, professor and director of the School of Politics and Global Studies. "He is not only a first-rate scholar, but he also brings exciting ideas for expanding the reach of the CLAPR through greater community engagement.”

“Francisco has a distinct, public policy perspective on the study of Latina/o politics that will substantially complement and enhance CLAPR’s scholarly research,” said Rodney Hero, director of the center and the Raul Yzaguirre Chair in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

Since 2016, Pedraza has been the director of the Politics of Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity Consortium — a series of all-day conferences, one of which was recently hosted virtually by the Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research on Jan. 14.

“He has played an important role in advancing the study of race/ethnicity in American politics through his leadership of the Politics of Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity Consortium, an initiative which fosters research on a range of issues relevant to and for Latina/o politics,” continued Hero.

This spring, Pedraza will be teaching POS 438: Latino Politics. He spoke with ASU News about why he came to ASU and what he hopes to accomplish while at the university.

Question: What inspired you to focus your research on the intersection between Latina/o politics and public policy?

Answer: In general, I appreciate how public policy has an impact on our lives. A great deal of advancements in political science are based on work that invites us to think in the abstract. I really like to pair that kind of thinking with how concrete politics shape the lives of Latinos.

Q: Why did you decide to come to ASU?

A: Academics thrive where research conversations are innovative and vibrant. ASU’s past investments in experts who focus on Latino politics place SPGS on the cusp of major research advances, and I wanted to be part of that group.

Q: What interested you in joining the Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research? What do you envision your role there being?

A: Like other areas of research in political science, there is a fair amount of diversity in Latino politics in terms of topic focus, methodology and even scope of projects. I take a close look at how ordinary Latinos react and respond to public policy. Others in CLAPR focus on the institutions and systems that impact Latinos in American politics. I see myself as advocating for a broad and comprehensive approach to understanding Latino politics and how Latinos are shaping American politics. My role at the center will be to elevate the visibility of our research, thicken connections with communities and stakeholders outside of ASU, and help advance funding strategies to further support CLAPR goals.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as you work at the university?

A: One goal that I have for 2022 is to build some of the intellectual infrastructure that can be sustained for the long haul. This means building and investing in systems that address pipeline issues, as well as thinking intentionally about how academia can more intentionally engage community needs.

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies