posted November 18, 2014 - written by Ashley Weselak, SOE Graduate Assistant
“Bob was a humble and genuinely delightful young man who took his college experience to its maximum in every sense. He was a serious student and a well-rounded leader among his peers. He was involved in a variety of campus and community based activities that served as a model for others. Of course, Bob broadened his remarkable professional development and leadership skills through the years. His unrelenting commitment and contributions are surely a tribute to Dick [Towne], Rollie [Van Hattum] and myself, as well as to our college and its faculty, staff and extraordinary student body. The Exceptional Education Department was fortunate to have many students who shared Bob's enthusiasm and dedication to serve others afflicted with disabilities and related challenges." – Dr. Carmen Iannaccone
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is arguably among one of the top public academic institutions in the world. So, who would think that UCLA’s Dean of Students and Associate Vice Chancellor for Student and Campus Life grew up in a working-class, single-parent home from the west side of Buffalo?
Dr. Robert Naples, Buffalo native and Buffalo State alum, began and continued his professional journey with one thing in mind: helping students.
Over the course of his career he has worked with students in multiple ways, but his first introduction to the field of education was through the completion of his bachelor’s degree at Buffalo State. As a commuting student, Buffalo State’s location and strong emphasis on teacher education made it the perfect choice. And while conversations with high school teachers prompted him to consider education as a meaningful career path, he soon found inspiration through his interactions with Buffalo State faculty.
Dr. Naples began his studies in elementary education but switched to exceptional education after a few courses and several professors sparked a passion within him. “I had the opportunity to get to know some of the professors and talk about the work they were doing. I was so impressed and fortunate to have that opportunity to connect with the faculty early on in my academic career. This encouraged me to want to be like them, to study in the same field of education,” he says.
Professors, such as Dr. Carmen Iannaccone, the late Dr. Roland Van Hattum, and the late Dr. Richard Towne motivated Dr. Naples and shaped his understanding of how a teacher should run her/his own classroom. They modeled a type of teacher that views each student as a unique individual, a teacher who respects and is willing to laugh with students. Dr. Naples realized that these connections help teachers reach their students on a different level and more so than those who distance themselves from the children in front of them.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Dr. Naples began teaching at Buffalo’s School #45. He enjoyed the profession and the students but after three years began to feel that teaching was no longer the right fit for him.
Teachers should not feel afraid of change or stuck in a career they no longer find fulfilling. Dr. Naples says that, “As long as teachers have a passion for what they’re doing they are going to make a difference in the lives of young people. But, if they lose their passion or spirit for teaching, or it becomes drudgery - and I know teachers who've felt this way - they really owe it to their students and themselves to step aside and use their education to do something else, because they can do something else. There are many ways to be a teacher, inside and outside of the classroom. Students deserve teachers who love what they're doing.”
Although his emphasis was no longer on teaching in a classroom setting, Dr. Naples wanted to continue working with students. He found a perfect counterpart in Buffalo State’s new Student Personnel Master’s program. He instantly knew this was his calling. After working in Student Affairs for seven years at his alma mater, he furthered his expertise of working with students in higher education by earning a doctorate at Temple University.
Dr. Naples has worked as a dean of students for over thirty of his forty-two year career, at several different institutions. He found his place at UCLA 20 years ago, where he has applied his experience and knowledge while also coordinating their Master’s program in Student Affairs.
Dr. Naples has even brought his expertise back to Buffalo State, teaching a summer course in higher education administration in 2009. He is appreciative of this experience stating, “I really felt it was an opportunity to give back to the college; to do something in return for everything Buffalo State did for me.”
Dr. Naples also serves on Buffalo State’s Robert A. Davis Scholarship committee; helping students in Higher Education Administration manage educational expenses and encouraging them to attend national conferences.
After considering his past 40+ years in higher education administration, Dr. Naples realizes that students have a lot more stress to deal with. He recognizes the financial needs and emotional strains faced by college students nationwide, and this motivates him to find ways to make his students’ lives better. He cares for their well-being and recognizes that it is difficult to be a student in today’s society.
Dr. Naples believes that all higher education personnel should consider the many pressures that their students encounter, whether with academics, family, or relationships. He is reassured that although there seem to be more pressures on students, there are also more resources for them to acquire assistance. He’s comforted by the general acceptance and encouragement for students to use on-campus facilities and counselors, which wasn’t as common decades ago.
Dr. Naples’ main goal is to make college an enjoyable experience for students. Whether learning in the classroom or learning among peers, college provides more than just the degree. He suggests that the best part of college is not always academia, but the experiences a student has during the entire educational journey.
“I’ve come to learn that college is more than just what you learn in the classroom. And my advice for students is to take advantage of every opportunity that they have. If we look at the statistics we know that students will generally change their majors more than once, often many times. In fact they may graduate with a degree in one thing but eventually do their work in something else. So certainly what they learn in the classroom is extremely important, but it’s the relationships that make you grow. It’s learning how to live with people who are different from yourself. It is a chance to learn how the world works and how to get by in the world. This is the real benefit of higher education.”
Dr. Naples is now retiring from administration but will continue utilizing his expertise to mentor and influence future educational leaders. He looks forward to working the classroom setting again; interacting with graduate students in the Student Affairs program at UCLA as a faculty member. He will also become more involved with Buffalo State’s own Higher Education Administration program. He looks back on his time at Buffalo State fondly, and often visits the campus on his returns to the city.
“I feel a tremendous amount of pride in growing up in Buffalo and graduating from Buffalo State. I think about the tremendous experiences I had there and the many friends I still have that were my classmates years ago. There will always be a part of Buffalo that stays with me.”
Although traditional teaching was not the right fit for Dr. Naples, he is still inspiring and mentoring young adults in ways he finds fulfilling. From one coast to the other, Dr. Naples is continuing to make a difference in the lives and education of university students.
“Buffalo State helped lay the foundation for what has been an opportunity for me to work with and help thousands of young people throughout my career.”
Visit the students and alumni page for more stories from our alumni!