The gift will fund scholarships and professorships, including one devoted to Native American issues; support hands-on learning programs focused on community solutions and leadership training; establish a Student Social Entrepreneurship Fund; and launch an initiative to revitalize the Maryvale community where the couple grew up. In recognition of the gift, the college will be renamed the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
The Maryvale Revitalization Project and One Square Mile Initiative will concentrate ASU programs and help connect existing initiatives in Maryvale, which has struggled in recent decades with high rates of crime and poverty and low rates of educational attainment compared with other parts of Maricopa County.
"Let's try doing it all in concert so that the same families that are getting the benefit of a nutrition program are also getting the benefit of a tutoring program and are also getting help starting their small business and are also shown how to be better financial managers," said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the college. "We've already discovered lots of cool things going on that are disconnected, so one of the roles we can play is to be a facilitator, a coordinator."
"I knew what it took to build a business and find value in other people," said Mike Watts, who retired in 2017 as CEO of Sunstate Equipment Co., which the couple took over in 1977 when it was a tiny lawnmower-rental company. "It wasn't motivation for money. It was motivation for growth. I found that through the proper channeling of people, it would build the business."
"To me, it's important to offer the opportunity to every human being to meet their potential," said Cindy Watts. "We're all human, we all want the same thing, we want to be happy and be free of suffering. We need one another."