Jim Watson and Judy Rodriguez Watson value the importance of education and giving back to the community, leading the CSUSB College of Education to name its building after the philanthropists.
by Mary Kenny
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For nearly 20 years, Jim and Judy have been steadfast
friends and champions of Cal State Bernardino, and have
tirelessly demonstrated their commitment in countless ways
and in many roles – as literacy advocates, philanthropic
leaders, campaign chairpersons, foundation and advisory
board members, and as benefactors for the arts.
As founder, president and CEO of J.R. Watson & Associates
Development Corporation, a private commercial real estate
firm based in Seal Beach, Jim has developed shopping
centers, and residential and master-planned mixed-use
projects. Judy serves as senior vice president of the company.
Together, they have had a profound impact on the
university, its students, faculty and staff, and the entire San
“When I became acquainted with the university, I saw the
dedication, the talent, expertise and the warmth that the
professors and staff showed to everyone – to us, to their
students, to each other. It was very impressive,” Jim said.
“As I came to understand the university better, they are
very successful at educating the underserved youth and
their families. They’re making a significant change in the
communities that they serve.”
Both Jim and Judy’s belief in giving back and serving the
community are deeply rooted family values, passed down
from generation to generation. Jim lost his father at a young
age and was fortunate to have a loving grandfather, who
advised him, “Provide for your family and protect them. Live
a life of integrity. Work hard. Strive for success, and when you
can, and if it’s appropriate, give to others,” he recalled.
Judy, one of four daughters, was born and raised in Los
Angeles. Her father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Veracruz,
Mexico, was a kind and compassionate role model, she recalls,
who would give anyone in need “the shirt off his back.”
Reading and literacy are particularly meaningful for the
Watsons. In 2004, their $1 million gift established The Watson &
Associates Literacy Center at CSUSB, which provides one-to-one
literacy tutoring to students in grades kindergarten through 12
who have not yet achieved grade-level proficiency in literacy,
or to any student who would benefit from individual support to
advance their skills.
“It’s critical for our society to have a highly educated group
of citizens,” says Jim. “Of the various things we’ve done in our
lives, the Watson Literacy Center is the most important to us.
The genesis of it came from both of our difficulties with reading
early in life – it’s why we so strongly support the Literacy
Judy agrees. “As a youth, I had struggles with reading. I’m
dyslexic. My problems are in reading and calculations. Numbers
are a real challenge for me.”
In 2006, Jim and Judy served as co-chairs of the College of
Education’s capital campaign. The highly successful campaign
raised more than $3 million, with the Watsons contributing the
lead gift. In recognition, the building’s student services center
was named in their honor.
Jim has served in a variety of leadership roles at CSUSB,
including chair of the board of the university’s Philanthropic
Foundation and as a member of the executive committee and
board of directors. For his dedication and commitment, Jim was
awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 2010.
“As I was standing on the stage, I was feeling tremendous
gratitude, appreciation, undeserving, and I was wishing that
my father, grandfather, grandmother, my mother, my aunts,
would have been there,” he says. “But I also felt their presence.
And with this honor comes responsibility. And it’s not lightly
given, lightly taken.”
Judy, too, has also taken an active leadership role at the
university. In 2011, she served as honorary chair for the Latino
Education and Advocacy Days summit at CSUSB and was
affectionately termed, “La Madrina de Honor,” or honorary
In recognition of her distinguished service throughout the
years, she was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane
letters in 2015.
“I was humbled,” she recalls. “I felt such an incredible sense
of honor, and it was a wonderful privilege. And as Jim said,
it comes with a lot of responsibilities. And I don’t take that
In addition to their advocacy work in literacy, the Watsons
are dynamic proponents of public art in San Bernardino and
have been instrumental in partnering with the city to display
CSUSB student art citywide.
In December 2021, the Watsons announced a
transformational gift of $8.4 million to the College of
Education. The gift will support student scholarships and
establish a new Center for STEM (science, technology,
engineering, mathematics) Education. The STEM Center will
be the hub for outreach to K-12 students in the region and will
include a Model STEM Exploratorium and a teacher residency
The gift will also support Project Impact, a new program
in the college to recruit and prepare teachers to serve
underrepresented students in public schools. Funds will also
be used to enhance the Watson & Associates Literacy Center’s
efforts in the Inland Empire. In addition, the gift will create
a Dean’s Endowed Fund that will be used to support special
projects and requests by faculty and students. This is the first
such fund for the CSUSB campus.
In recognition of their generosity, the College of Education
will be named the James R. Watson and Judy Rodriguez
Watson College of Education during an unveiling ceremony
later this fall.
It will be only the fourth College of Education to be named
in the 23-campus CSU system, and joins with distinction
the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San Jose State
University, the Kremen School of Education at Fresno State
and the Michael D. Eisner College of Education at Cal State
“We are particularly pleased that a truly fitting recognition
of their important gift – the naming of the James R. Watson
and Judy Rodriquez Watson College of Education – will
further serve as a legacy to their generosity for generations to
come,” said CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales. “Their passion
for education and its power to change lives for the better will
ensure a bright future for the countless children inspired and
transformed by the graduates of the college.”
“It’s an incredible honor to see our name on this building,”
says Judy. “We did a lot of work to get here, and it was
rewarding for us to do that.”
“Going back to what my grandfather said,” Jim says,
“[Give back] when you can and when it’s appropriate.” Jim
suggested using the Rodriguez family name, he says, “to
honor Judy, honor her family and also honor the community.”
A strategic investment in Cal State Bernardino students and
the wider community it serves, Jim and Judy’s extraordinary
generosity will be used to achieve extraordinary things in
extraordinary ways, and will have a wide-ranging impact on
the university and the region far into the future.