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The Power of Curiosity

Professor Emeritus Richard Watts supports campus in far-reaching ways

When Professor Emeritus Richard Watts arrived at UC Santa Barbara in 1972 as a chemist, he joined a close-knit department. By the time he retired in 2008, Richard had chaired the Academic Senate and served as faculty advisor to the chancellor.

“These achievements came at a later time in my life, when I had time to appreciate the whole university,” said Richard. Now, Richard expresses his appreciation by supporting UC Santa Barbara. His diverse philanthropy encompasses fifth grade chemistry outreach, Gene Lucas Scholars and the Middle East Ensemble.

Richard supports Professor Petra van Koppen’s Fifth Grade Chemistry Outreach program, which impacts 1,400 children, parents and teachers each year. The children wear lab coats and safety glasses to turn pennies “silver” and “gold” or set flame to bubbles filled with methane gas in an experience Richard calls “entertaining and magical.”

“I am incredibly grateful I had the chance to do work that was both fulfilling and fun,” said Kevin Dervishi ’17. “It expanded my social network, improved my communication and teaching skills, and enriched my college experience.” Kevin worked with the Fifth Grade Chemistry Outreach program for four years. He is now a doctoral student in the Division of Medical Sciences at Harvard University.

“Richard’s partnership shows that he understands the value of what we do and the considerable impact that our program has on the community,” said van Koppen.

From the youngest scientists to those embarking on their first research projects: Richard also supports The Gene Lucas Undergraduate Research Fund. Through this, he helps first-generation undergraduate students conduct STEM research. An unprecedented 56% of undergraduates participate in research and creative activities at UC Santa Barbara.

“They work with faculty on real, honest-to-goodness research,” said Richard, who is impressed by the students’ passion and poise. “The science is always totally obvious when you hear them make presentations.”

Yet Richard’s support goes beyond the sciences. A conversation with ethnomusicology Professor Scott Marcus sparked a deep interest in the Middle East Ensemble. As a friend of the ensemble, Richard supports the musicians’ outreach to the Santa Barbara community.

“My support of the ensemble furthers the idea of cultural diversity, particularly during times when sentiment can be against the Middle East,” said Richard. “And when they give a concert, they really give a concert.”

When Richard decides what to support, he relies on a deep interest and the feeling that he can make a difference. He believes that the academic excellence of UC Santa Barbara comes in part from creative and resourceful faculty-led programs. Richard’s perspective as a campus leader gives him the breadth of vision to see how individual program support furthers the university as a whole.

“I seek out programs and get to know the people and what they need,” said Richard. “To me, it was not just chemistry but anything that interested me. As it develops, you’ll have helped a program grow and be excellent.”