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)