Scripps Hires 20-Year Nonprofit Veteran As Inaugural LASPA Center Director

Scripps College announced the appointment of Lisa Watson as the inaugural director of the LASPA Center after a search process that lasted almost a year. Watson was one of the three final candidates who visited the college in February to meet with staff, faculty and students.

The LASPA Center is named in honor of trustees Eileen Schock Laspa SC ’67 and Jude Laspa HM ’65. According to the Scripps website, “the mission of the LASPA Center is to develop and support future generations of women in leadership, providing them with opportunities to expand access to the necessary attributes, knowledge, and skills to succeed in the 21st century.”

President Lori Bettison-Varga wrote in an email to TSL that Watson is a veteran in the field of nonprofit management, having worked 20 years in the industry.

“As Chief Executive Officer of the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC), a nonprofit serving homeless women, she developed and expanded nationally-recognized housing and supportive services programs, led a $40 million capital campaign for relocation and program expansion, and developed a 4,000-member volunteer organization,” Bettison-Varga wrote.

This is the second attempt by Scripps to find a director of the LASPA Center. The first attempt ended in February 2014 with Bettison-Varga’s Feb. 12 announcement that the college had decided not to offer the position to the search committee’s first-choice candidate, social justice activist Margaret “Margo” Okazawa-Rey. The decision was met with strong backlash from students, with a group of students staging a protest Feb. 17.

Writing professor Kimberly Drake was part of the brand new steering committee comprised of staff, faculty, students and alumnae that began meeting last September to oversee the hiring process and clarify the center’s mission and the director’s job description.

“One problem with the first committee—this was the problem that was publicly stated—was that the position was not defined, which is true," Drake said. "It was very vaguely defined. There has never really been a very clear definition of what was wrong exactly with that candidate or why the whole thing had to be reconfigured.”

A smaller portion of the steering committee constituted the search committee, which was directly in charge of selecting interview candidates in January and then choosing the three final candidates. The three candidates came to campus separately Feb. 12, 16 and 18 to meet with faculty, staff and students.

According to Bettison-Varga, the search committee then narrowed the pool down to two final candidates. Bettison-Varga wrote that she made the final decision, after reviewing all comments submitted by community members who attended the candidate forums and speaking with references provided by the candidates.

Drake said that one aspect of Watson that made her stand out from the other two final candidates was her broad knowledge of service opportunities in L.A. Bettison-Varga also wrote that Watson “brings a wealth of experience to this new opportunity,” and that she has a background working with institutions in both the public and private sectors.

Drake said that the steering committee will continue to exist, even if with different members, to assist the new director as she gets to know the campus community and convince it of the center’s mission.

“My sense is this organization will connect students to opportunities to serve in the community," Drake said. "That’s one thing it can do and it sounds to me like it’s going to do a lot of that, given the new director’s background. It’s going to allow students to take all of their liberal arts learning and apply it, [using] it in these other contexts that are not really academic contexts."

LASPA will officially launch April 2 with workshops, a reception, and a keynote presentation at the Sallie Tiernan Field House.