Wil Counts

Dr. Wil Counts is the founding Dean of Students at South Mountain Community College. He is now a Pharmacist in the Phoenix area.

1981. Wil Counts, from Phoenix Magazine, March.
Image provided by Dr. Wil Counts.

Dr. Wil Counts was born September 19th, 1945 in Hutchison, Kanas. His father worked in construction and his mother was a maid who later went to cosmetology school and became a beautician. They raised Counts and his five siblings in a rural town, where they spent many days of Counts’ childhood hunting and fishing. Counts remembers having high aspirations from a very young age. At the age of five, he told his kindergarten class that he wanted to be a doctor.

When will was fourteen, the Counts family relocated to South Phoenix, where two of his uncles lived. Counts was taken aback by the rural dusty roads and the desert environment. He initially attended South Mountain High School and later transferred to Carl Hayden High School. After graduating, Counts continued his education at Phoenix College, studying pre-med/pre-pharmacy. The he attended University of Arizona to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy.

While in the United States Navy, Counts completed his Master’s in behavioral science. Once his term in the Navy was finished, he returned to South Phoenix to complete his doctorate in Psychology from Arizona State University in 1973. He finished his education receiving a post doctorate in Psycho Pharmacology.

Because he maintained roots in the South Phoenix community, Counts kept a close eye on developments in the Maricopa Community College District to build a college that would serve the students of South Phoenix. At the time, the District assumed that students would take the bus to Maricopa Tech (now GateWay), but community members wondered why poor students should be forced to take the bus long distances to obtain an education. He watched the tide shift to finally bring a college to South Phoenix after the community became involved and Dr. Raul Cardenas came in from the Bay area to get the school started.

Counts first began teaching classes at Maricopa Tech, and discovered that he loved being on a college campus. In 1979, Dr. Cardenas asked him to come on board as the founding Dean of Students of South Mountain Community College. In the first years, day classes were held in the nearby church and night class were held in various schools in the south Phoenix area. “It was exciting,” Counts remembered. He worked hard to recruit students, and initiate programs that would help them to get their degrees despite their economic challenges. As the Dean of Students, he also worked to get the South Phoenix community involved at SMCC. Counts offered SMCC to the community as a place for meetings and events such as a Native American pow wow and Quinceaneras. His favorite part of his time at SMCC was the South Phoenix Leadership Program in which local professionals come and talk to the students.

In his role as inaugural Dean, Counts witnessed a lot of growing pains at SMCC. One of the most difficult days he ever had on campus was in 1986, when federal agents stormed the campus and raided the Financial Aid office.

In 1986, Counts transferred to GateWay Community College, and later presumed a career in pharmacology, though he and his family maintain connections to the South Phoenix community. His wife also grew up in South Phoenix and attended South Mountain Community College. He has three children in the Phoenix area. Counts looks back on his time at South Mountain Community College with fond memories. He sees the college as a catalyst for development and social change in the area.

NarratorWil Counts
BirthdateSeptember 19, 1945
Place of OriginHutchison, KS
Place of ResidenceAhwatukee, Arizona
OccupationPharmacist; Founding Dean of Students, SMCC
Years Active in South Phoenix1959-
Recording Duration58:08
DateFall 2020
LocationSouth Mountain Community College, Black Box Theater
Interviewed ByFaculty Researchers: Travis May and Summer Cherland
Story Written ByStudent Writers: Ali Hussain