When Gerald Napoles graduated with his undergraduate degree in Sociology, he dreamed of using his degree to help others. At that time, he and millions of others were experiencing fallback from the dotcom bust of early 2000, making it difficult for many to find or retain employment. Though he struggled finding a job during this time, his desire to help others served as a guiding star, along with support from his community.
“I knew a couple of people who were retired or working on a second career who would tell me, ‘Keep your head up,’ or ‘Keep on keepin’ on,’ or things like that to motivate me,” Napoles said, remembering the encouragement and wisdom of older people in his life.
“It was my desire to serve others, but also to have the skill set to have that great quality of life people used to talk about,” he said. As an undergrad, Napoles got involved with student activities and student life and found fulfillment in bringing students joy through this work. Eventually, he started a job working in the financial aid office of a community college, launching him into his career in higher education and sparking his passion for the importance of education-based opportunity.
He soon began exploring masters’ programs or law school and learned about the Master's in Public Administration program at the University of North Texas. Here, he took a course in gerontology, which introduced him to working with older populations and incorporated his desire to serve others. He went on to earn his Master of General Studies in Aging, serving as the President of the Gerontology Student Association and completing a capstone project on “Adult Programs in Higher Education: Meeting the Needs of Older Students in a Metropolitan Community College District.”
“I always wanted to help people and ended up focusing on older adults and seniors,” said Napoles. “I realized that no matter how old someone is, no matter where they start their journey of education, if they have the knowledge, experience, and technical expertise needed to get a job, that gives them more opportunity. Education provides those opportunities.”
After graduating from UNT, Napoles pursued a PhD in Educational Administration at The University of Texas at Austin, where he also earned the Nonprofit Studies portfolio through the RGK Center. Through the portfolio program, Napoles took courses with LBJ School professors like Sarah Jane Rehnborg and Edwin Dorne. Napoles has fond memories of the multi-disciplinary classrooms and the benefit of learning from others with different expertise and experiences than his own.
“People were really excited to hear from the professors but also from other classmates,” Napoles remembers. “I really enjoyed my time at the LBJ School because it was an opportunity for me to meet other people who were studying nonprofits, government, pre-law, or Mexican-American Studies,” Napoles said. “I could be sitting next to a future governor, senator, diplomat, director of a nonprofit – it was just so diverse!”
In 2015, Napoles moved back to his home state of Texas after working in Kentucky in student affairs and as adjunct faculty. Since then, he has worked in several capacities at Lone Star College, most recently as Vice Chancellor for Student Success.
“I had numerous chances to use the Nonprofit Studies portfolio in my education career as I advanced from dean to vice president and now, vice chancellor,” said Napoles. He has worked in rural, suburban, and urban community colleges in Texas, Kentucky, and California. In his roles, he often works with diverse groups such as families, businesses, politicians, industry leaders, and local nonprofits.
“I would go to chamber meetings with the [Independent School District] superintendent and president and I could relate with them because I had diverse community experience and a practical and service-focused certificate from the LBJ School,” said Napoles.