Headshot of Maria Watson

Maria Watson

Maria Watson, a dynamic and experienced leader in promoting philanthropy that changes lives, will become Pomona College’s vice president for advancement starting Jan. 6, following formal appointment by the Board of Trustees at their December meeting.

Watson brings to Pomona more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience, successfully building exceptional fundraising teams. Watson’s career has taken her from cultural institutions such as Lincoln Center and the New World Symphony to Fordham University and, most recently, the University of Southern California, where she is the associate vice president of development. 

In her eight years at USC, she has conceptualized and launched that institution’s first New York City/Northeast advancement office, led major gift and regional teams and played a key role in the success of USC’s $7 billion campaign.

In Pomona, she sees a highly successful institution with true intellectual purpose, strong values and an enduring commitment to access and opportunity—what she calls the “perfect combination.” Her aim is to align Pomona’s philanthropic support to match its academic excellence and, in doing so, boost the positive change Sagehens make every day in the world around them.

“In meeting students, faculty members, staff, trustees and alumni, I was struck by how deeply people care about Pomona and how deeply the College has affected their lives,” says Watson.

“There is such strong sentiment for the College—we are going to work together to build a culture of philanthropic support for the world-changing work here and strengthen our ties to one another along the way. I am honored to now be part of this community of scholars, leaders, creators and innovators.”

Watson’s own interest in the liberal arts began during her undergraduate days at University of Michigan, where she earned her B.M.A. in clarinet performance with a minor in political science. She went on to lead marketing for The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the New World Symphony in Miami Beach and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. From there, she became chief development director for Fordham University’s WFUV, designing and launching the first capital campaign for the beloved public radio station.

After opening USC’s New York office in 2011, she later moved to Southern California and joined the senior leadership team responsible for organizing, planning and executing the Campaign for USC. She has led the strategic integration and growth of USC’s central major gifts and regional teams, and the securing of principal gifts for USC. Watson also has shown a deep belief in and commitment to diversity in building her teams at USC.

As vice president for advancement at Pomona, Watson will lead philanthropic initiatives and oversee key programs that are essential to the College’s future—including major gifts, alumni and parent engagement and planned giving—while serving on President G. Gabrielle Starr’s executive team.

“Maria truly understands the liberal arts and will be an energetic and effective advocate for providing the resources that allow Pomona to be Pomona, offering the best undergraduate education anywhere,” says Starr.

Selected through an extensive national search that attracted many highly qualified candidates, “Maria will engage and challenge all of us to step forward and elevate a culture of philanthropy that benefits students today and into the future,” says Pomona College Trustee Bobby Lee ’02, who led the search committee. “I encourage everyone to join in and help build the momentum.”