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New Watts College chief of public service to strengthen, expand partnerships and engagement

Cindy Parnell says she will rely on community development expertise to make the college's programs even more successful


Potrait of Cindy Parnell, ASU Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions first-ever chief of public service.

Cindy Parnell. Photo courtesy ASU

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March 09, 2022

Cindy Parnell loves to mentor tomorrow’s leaders, and she doesn’t stand still while doing it.

“I like to design and build things,” she said. “I’m not a maintainer.”

Parnell began work March 7 as the first-ever chief of public service at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, where she will guide several of the college’s well-known and highly successful programs that focus on community embeddedness in public service.

The programs include the Public Service Academy, Opportunities for Youth, the Action Nexus on Homelessness, the Design Studio for Community Solutions and the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service. She will work on multiple ASU campuses and in the community.

Watts College Dean Cynthia Lietz said she is looking forward to Parnell joining the Watts leadership team.

“As our inaugural chief of public service, she will oversee several of our student-engaged, community-embedded initiatives, programs that are signature to our mission,” Lietz said. “This is an important step in our efforts toward building more vibrant, healthy communities.”

Parnell spent 16 years working for ASU before starting her position at the Watts College, most recently as a university assistant vice president and executive director at the university’s Career and Professional Development Services office.

She grew up in a family of teachers and originally thought about going into teaching. Her career began in the nonprofit sector, where Parnell was a program director for the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley YMCA, and before that, in a similar role for a California camp and conference center.

“And now, here I am in higher education – just not in a traditional classroom,” she said.

Parnell said she wants to apply her extensive experience in community development to further engage the college’s existing community partners and to bring in new ones.

This includes engaging such partners with the Public Service Academy to help students increasingly hone their leadership skills for careers in the corporate, nonprofit or government sectors. Similar efforts will be applied to the work Opportunities for Youth does with an already-strong staff to help at-risk youth ages 16–24 find employment or educational opportunities, she said.

“(Opportunities for Youth) has incredible room to move the needle with community partners while supporting and connecting these employers to the employees they need. We are committed to creating both educational and employment pathways for opportunity youth,” she said.

Parnell, who grew up in and lives in Phoenix, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education from ASU and a Master of Education degree in higher education administration from Northern Arizona University.

She is currently a member of the National Association of Colleges and Employers and the Network of Academic Corporate Relations Officers. Prior to 2017, she served on the board of Arizona@Work, a statewide workforce development network that matches employers with jobseekers. There, she served as a catalyst, identifying and addressing the evolving business needs of greater Phoenix by convening partners to provide customer-centric solutions and resources that offer employers access to a skilled workforce across the state.

Building on the Watts College’s motto to “be the solution,” Parnell said she would add the words, “take action.”

“At a lot of colleges, it’s about theory and talking and not putting it all into practice. That’s what I love about this college, is how it is putting things into action very, very quickly,” Parnell said. “I’m a product of after-school programs, of having a single mom, going to community centers, working at nonprofits. For me, it’s more than just giving back — it’s my life.”

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