Watters family builds a legacy of science and teaching at Sac State

Young Cody and Kyle Watters once spent a day designing a zoo. Cody, a budding biologist, decided which animals would go where. Math-enthusiast Kyle set ticket prices, to ensure they’d make a profit.

“This was fun for us,” Kyle says today.

“It was a weird family,” admits his father, Pat.

Definitions of “weird” may differ, but what’s not up for debate is the impact the Watters family has had on Sacramento State. Pat, who attended the University in the 1970s and went on to have a long career as an environmental scientist, instilled in his two sons a love of science. They, in turn, have returned to the campus as faculty members – Cody is also an alum – continuing a tradition dating to Pat’s mother, who earned her teaching credential when the campus still was known as Sacramento State College.

“We have legacy here at Sacramento State,” says Pat Watters. “Three generations? It’s a legacy, and it’s gratifying to be a part of it and to see where the University is going.”

Pat enrolled at Sacramento State in 1971 because it was affordable and had a strong biology program, though he also took some classes in the University’s nascent Department of Environmental Studies. After he graduated, he spent 30 years as a field biologist, park ranger and environmental land use planner with Sacramento County before retiring in 2007.

All the while, he was introducing his children – he and wife Patti also have a daughter, Karly – to the outdoors and to science.

“Our family are Montana/Dakota people who have always hunted and fished, so we have an affinity for the outdoors,” Pat says.

Both Kyle and Cody – Kyle is older – attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara before moving on to graduate school, Kyle at Stanford, where he obtained his doctorate, and Cody at Sacramento State. Cody wanted to follow in his grandmother’s footsteps as a teacher, and at Sac State he realized he could combine his passions for biology and teaching. While a student, he served as a graduate teacher. After graduation, he was hired as a biology lecturer.

“I’ve gotten the full spectrum of students, from students who need a lot of my help and attention to students who practically don’t need me at all,” says Cody, who hopes to eventually obtain a tenure-track position at a community college. “I feel like I’m well prepared for any type of student I’d encounter.”

Kyle, a physics lecturer, came to Sacramento State from Omaha, Neb., where he taught at Creighton University while his wife completed her medical residency. When he returned to his hometown, he was offered a part-time job at Sacramento State – a job that eventually led to a full-time position. Now, he works just a couple of floors above his brother, often seeing the same students a couple of years after Cody taught them.

“It’s nice to feel like you’ve made an impact on students’ lives, that their experience here has been bettered by your little piece of it,” Kyle says. “I don’t have to pretend to be excited to teach this stuff because I really am.”

Both Cody and Kyle work in Sequoia Hall, occasionally wondering if “Sacramento State College”-stamped equipment might have been used by their grandmother or father. But Cody soon will move to the new Ernest E. Tschannen Science Complex, set to open in 2019, and Kyle will take on an important role in the building: director of the complex’s state-of-the-art planetarium.

“That planetarium is going to be an amazing resource for the campus,” Kyle says, adding that he expects around 15,000 community members will use the facility annually. “It’s going to be world class, and there’s nothing like it anywhere nearby.”

For Pat, it is surreal to think about two of his children working at the campus he attended, a campus he sees taking on a larger and more important role, through resources such as the planetarium, in the broader Sacramento community.

“I’ll go out on the weekends and I’ll ride my bike along the American River Parkway and I’ll come across the Guy West Bridge and see the old building where I used to spend all my time, and I realize my sons have offices in there now,” he says. “And then I look in the other direction, and there’s the new Science Complex going in and I realize, wow, Sac State is growing, and my sons are part of it.”

Pictured above from left: Cody Watters, Pat Watters and Kyle Watters. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

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Pair of Hornet journalists receive lifetime achievement awards

Two Sacramento State alums have received lifetime achievement awards for their work in the journalism industry.

Cheryl Dell ’82 (Communications), who retired last year as publisher of the Sacramento Bee after 30 years in the industry, on Sept. 11 received the Ralph D. Casey/Minnesota Award, a top accolade for newspaper and news media publishers. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the nonprofit Inland Press Association, and given to publishers who bring about positive change “while exemplifying the finest in journalism and community service.”

A native of Modesto, Dell served as publisher of the Tri-City Herald and The News-Tribune in Washington State before returning home in 2008 to oversee the Bee. Sacramento State awarded Dell an honorary doctorate in 2017.

High honors also are being bestowed upon Sacramento State alum and NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, who in December will be awarded the 2018 Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism. The award recognizes the “outstanding career achievements of journalists whose work has made a lasting impact serving citizens in our democracy.”

Holt began working at NBC news in 2000 following nearly 20 years in local television, in 2015 becoming the first African-American solo anchor of a weekday network nightly newscast. The Rancho Cordova native studied government at Sacramento State, received an honorary degree in 2015, and returned to Sacramento in early 2017 as the first stop in his “Across America” series.

Tech executive Rick Nelson makes his play to generate support for Carlsen Center

Rick NelsonWhen 28 local executives hit the golf links later this year for a charity tournament, there will be a lot on the line for Sacramento State.

Rick Nelson ’94 (Communication Studies), the owner and former CEO of Direct Technology and now-Chairman of the Launch Consulting Group, is raising money before and during the Oct. 5-7 Capital Cup tournament for the University’s Dale and Katy Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Individual participants raise money for charities of their choice ahead of the competition – interested parties may donate online – and charities supported by the winning team will share a $50,000 grand prize.

Nelson said his great admiration for fellow Sac State alum Dale Carlsen, founder of Sleep Train Mattress Centers, and Carlsen’s vision for the Center are two big reasons he wanted to lend his support.

“Young people need a place to go and find out how to lead, how to create and advance their own personal ideas,” he said. “It’s the key to fast, specific development of young talent.”

Nelson, who described himself as “not a great student in high school,” took a somewhat circuitous path to tech CEO, with Sacramento State playing a big role. Following high school, he enrolled at what was then California State University, Hayward, but left after one semester and eventually found himself in Carson City, Nev., where he decided to enlist in the Air Force.

Military service brought him to Rancho Cordova, and he enrolled at American River College while also working at UPS. He transferred to Sacramento State in 1989, where he found attentive professors who were willing to probe deep and complicated issues, as well as the support needed to learn from mistakes and continue on.

“Sac State was the target, the goal, to get to a four-year university and challenge myself in that environment,” he said. “Sac State was warm and inviting and probably the prettiest place in Sacramento. To go there and graduate from there was pretty exciting.”

He took an ownership interest in Direct Technology, which develops software solutions for public- and private-sector employers, in 2006.

Sacramento is experiencing a great deal of growth, driven in part by the migration of Bay Area residents to the capital region, Nelson said, and both new and existing businesses will look to Sacramento State for the bright, young and talented workforce that will allow the region to continue to grow. The Carlsen Center, he added, will provide students with the opportunity to learn directly from entrepreneurs and innovators with real-life experiences, not only to hear about their successes but to learn about what pitfalls to avoid.

“Sac State has the opportunity to be the leader in innovation. There’s a lot of energy in this area right now, and this is the perfect time for the Dale and Katy Carlsen Center,” Nelson said. “This Center is absolutely going to ignite a fire in people who want to start their own business and make their own path, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”