Sun Devil role model paves the path for future law graduate
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.
Arizona native Elizabeth Watters dreamed of being a Sun Devil her entire life. Inspired by her aunt, Shawn Uphoff, a Sun Devil alum who is still very much a part of her life, Watters realized at Uphoff’s commencement that ASU would be the place where she too would one day walk across the stage.
“I can remember attending her graduation in 1986 when I was only 7,” she said. “I don't think I had ever been in an auditorium that huge before, surrounded by so many people, with so much cheering and excitement. It was an experience I will never forget.”
This time, it will be her aunt in the stands cheering Watters on as she graduates from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
A mother of four children, Watters wanted to return to school and begin a new career path. That path led her to pursue a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree at ASU Law, in addition to a Master of Public Administration from the Watts College of Public Service at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus.
“The impact that ASU has had on my life is immeasurable, and the effect it has on my career will be expressed through my professional achievements,” Watters said. “The education was priceless, and the connections I made, with students and professors, are invaluable.”
While at ASU Law, Watters was selected twice for the Maricopa County Leadership and Education Advancing Public Service (MCLEAPS) program.
The program, in partnership with Maricopa County, gives students the opportunity to compete for paid internships within multiple Maricopa County departments. Through this program, students benefit from career-relevant work experience, professional connections and stipends for project work, and more.
Watters interned with the Maricopa County Office of Procurement Services and also received professional career training through the MCLEAPS program leaders.
Her internship became an employment opportunity for Watters, and she is now a procurement specialist for the Maricopa County Office of Procurement Services.
“The combination of a stellar education and ASU community relationships has strengthened my ability to proceed confidently in my future career,” she said.
To learn more about her time at ASU Law and advice to future students, we spoke to Watters.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study law?
Answer: I have a deep love of the law and I wanted to combine a law degree with my passion for public service. So I decided I’d get two master’s degrees in the fields I am interested in. After speaking with my uncle, Richard, who just so happens to be the husband of my amazing aunt, Shawn, he recommended looking into a public administration degree. And that is how I began my journey to ASU.
My passion lies in serving the public, and I want to be able to understand government contracts so that I may do my job as a civil servant to the best of my ability. My understanding of government contracts will make it possible for me to help local government agencies utilize the taxpayer dollar in a way that is valuable and efficient through best practices.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I have been a mother for more than 20 years, and as a mother, you know that your children are watching your every step. I have always put huge importance on academics and my children have always been fantastic students.
My three youngest children were e-learning at the time I was taking online classes. It was such a joy to have their desks lined up in a row beside mine. As they observed me take pride in my work, staying up late to study, and expressing my excitement with each good grade I received, I saw them naturally begin to take pride and a deeper interest in their schoolwork. We are a powerful influence on our children, and this experience really opened my eyes as I watched my children mimic my effort and change their behavior and attitude toward school.
Q: Why did you choose ASU Law?
A: I chose ASU Law for a few good reasons. I want to begin by saying that Sandra Day O’Connor is my favorite Supreme Court Justice. Her ability and intelligence are something I admire and respect. Her story is an inspiration to women everywhere. Attending a school named in her honor was just the icing on the cake.
From an academic standpoint, I had researched the MLS program and it was exactly the right fit to build a foundation for my future. The law education I received was outstanding and the professors here were amazing. I knew ASU, with its high academic standards, was the perfect place for me to be a successful student.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Professor Sandra Erickson was an absolute delight. She is one of the first ASU Law professors that everyone in my MLS cohort had as an educator. She does a tremendously wonderful job of ushering in new students and exposing them to the legal system. She is patient, kind, understanding, knows the law and teaches it superbly. She was instrumental in taking my love of jurisprudence to the next level.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: My best piece of advice is to communicate with your professors. They are there for you and they appreciate it when you reach out to them. Not always, but I would say 95% of the time, I began communicating directly to the teacher right from the start of class with an informal introduction about myself and what I was interested in learning, or if I had any concerns. Most of the time I even scheduled Zoom meetings or phone calls with most of my teachers to discuss the material. Even if you don't have a question, I encourage you to go to the office hours anyway and listen to what the other students are asking. I found that in my attempts to communicate, every professor was quick to respond and happy to help.
Q: What advice do you have for students who may be interested in pursuing a law degree
A: I would advise them to choose two emphases that they are interested in and begin to dabble in those classes. There will absolutely be an emphasis that piques their interest over another. Take the first couple of semesters to enroll in classes that do not conform to your emphasis and really get to know what you like. It will not disturb your degree map and you will be happy you tried something different.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The ASU Law library is an inspiring and peaceful place to study. The vibe there is powerful. Upon taking a break from my studies, I would lean back in my chair and look around at the towering stacks. I would close my eyes and think about how all the laws that were ever passed, and all the important cases in history were surrounding me. When I am there, I can’t help imagining hearing strong voices making compelling and passionate arguments, the sound of the gavel cracking, and the still silence of a courtroom. Our history, as well as our future as a great nation, lies within those walls documented on every page of every book. It is spellbinding.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I am currently working in procurement for Maricopa County. This opportunity offers me a solid stepping-stone that will hopefully lead me to the judicial branch where I can work in government contracts at the local or state level. I also have a deep interest in the foster care system where I believe I can exercise my knowledge of the law and pair it with my love of public administration to usher in new policy and collaborate with like-minded colleagues. I want to bring positive change to the lives of others in my community, especially the lives of children.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: The foster care system is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I would use the money to begin a foundation that offers education, assistance, and support to foster children who reach the age of emancipation.
These young adults are at high risk of becoming homeless, becoming pregnant, and having a difficult time finding employment. Too often these young adults are overlooked, and I would focus my efforts on building an external support system they could rely upon to bridge the gap between the end of foster care and the beginning of their adult lives. The foundation would offer job training, housing accommodations, counseling, and educational resources. The foundation would explore a relationship with ASU and help to support and build ASU’s existing Bridging Success foster youth program.