Nationally Recognized Tutor Donny Watson Keeps Climbing

Donny Watson receiving award (Russell Carpenter on left, Watson on right)

Donny Watson receiving award (Russell Carpenter on left, Watson on right)

By Christina Quattrone

Donny Watson, communication major at College of Southern Nevada, was the recipient of the highly-coveted Outstanding Tutor Award at the National Association of Communication Center’s Conference in Phoenix this past April.

“It felt amazing,” Watson said. Humble and selfless to the core, Watson doesn’t do anything for acknowledgment or celebration but because he feels it is the right thing to do morally. “But I am human and it feels very gratifying to be recognized.”

He won the award with a persuasive speech. It wasn’t the first time he took a competition. In April 2012, he won the national speech competition at Eastern Kentucky University.

Receiving these honors made Watson reflect on where he is now and where he came from.

He was a born in a small, rural town in Alaska 35 years ago. “My childhood was pretty rough … most of it was chaotic and all about survival,” Watson said.

Watson’s biological mother would leave him to take care of his newborn sister while she was off sustaining a drug habit and lifestyle that consumed her. “My mother would disappear for three-to-four days at a time,” he said. “I had been taking care of [my sister] pretty much by myself by recycling cans at the local recycling center so I could buy baby food, diapers and bologna for us.”

“As self-centered as this may sound, the only person I can say that had an influence on me was me,” he said. “I was responsible for my sister and myself. I didn’t get to play and watch cartoons like the other kids. I had to grow up fast and keep us together and safe.”

Watson and his sister bounced around for a while until they were adopted. Luckily they stayed together.

Watson had trouble connecting with the new surroundings and parents, which later led him to join the Marine Corps when he was 18 to get away and start his life. “I always felt like I was meant for something bigger and better than the life I was being given,” Watson said.

After serving two tours as a Marine, Watson relocated from La Jolla, Calif. to Las Vegas.

“I came to Vegas and realized that because of my disability status with the government, I was going to be able to go to school,” Watson said.

Watson originally enrolled at CSN to be a nuclear medicine technician. “I honestly don’t know what I was thinking and that became apparent once I had to take chemistry and calculus,” he said. “I didn’t even know what calculus was!”

He took a job tutoring in the CSN Communication Labs and realized that communications was his true calling.

“I take my job very seriously and put a lot of hard work into tutoring and helping our students,” he said. Watson wants nothing more for students he tutors than to be as successful in this discipline: one that he loves. “I live for those moments when the light bulb goes off for them.”

April Hebert, CSN instructor for department of communications, is an admirer of Watson’s efforts and unyielding devotion to tutoring at the Communication Labs.

“[Donny] truly exemplifies the term peer tutor; he not only relates to our diverse student population, but also understands the needs, fears and frustrations of COM students.”

Watson delves deeper than the average tutor, making sure to nurse students’ anxieties with public speaking by letting them know that he has been where they are, Hebert said.

Equipped with such talent, Watson has been selected as the only undergraduate student in Iowa State University’s history to write a chapter on nonverbal behavior in public speaking for its upcoming fall 2014 textbook. The other contributors are graduate students, master or doctoral scholars.

“I had never written anything like that before and it took many drafts to get it right, but I am so happy of the finished product,” said Watson, adding that he is swollen with pride to have been given such a grand opportunity to participate.

Watson chose nonverbal behavior to focus on including the use of voice, touch, distance and physical appearance in public speaking. Watson feels these behaviors don’t get enough attention in mainstream academia.

In addition to nonverbal cues in his chapter, Watson wrote of the labor-intensive process of crafting speeches: topic selection, outlining and organization.

“All these things mesh together to provide credibility in speaking so the audience doesn’t unconsciously become distracted,” he said.

Dr. David Wangsgard, professor of anthropology at CSN, became close friends with Watson after teaching him as a student.

When asked if Watson had impacted his personal life, Wangsgard responded with a testimony of the high character Watson possesses. “He always helps those he cares about to see the positive and can flexibly navigate clear paths through difficult or complicated issues, even in seemingly impossible situations,” Wangsgard said. He stresses how Watson is adaptable and a great person.

Watson has a full-time job, tutors at the Com Lab, goes to school and has a wonderful family. He and his wife have a young daughter and are expecting a baby. His past keeps him motivated to achieve great things while remaining selfless. Watson has future plans to become a teacher.

When asked how he would like to be remembered, Watson responds with an honest sentence that embodies the very foundation of his journey. “As someone who never gave up and didn’t let how they were raised hinder who they became.”

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Donny Watson

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