Her focus on philanthropy fits with GCU's culture

Carla Gentles has joined the Colangelo College of Business as an entrepreneurship and innovation instructor.

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau

Carla Gentles served in the Army for 29 years before retiring in 2015.

She’s still serving, but in other ways.

Her newest assignment: She’s teaching an Entrepreneurship and Innovation class in the Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) at Grand Canyon University.

Gentles is enjoying teaching in higher education after years of training soldiers in the Army.

But Gentles also is eager to bring innovation to the world of philanthropy. Her husband, Karl Gentles, is Executive Director for the Back-to-School Clothing Drive, hosted annually by GCU, and the couple wants to do more – much more.

“It’s just a way of life for us,” she said. “We’re always assessing what we are doing and what we can do.”

She’s focused on both the present and the future in another way: Gentles is in the GCU doctoral program and is doing her dissertation on knowledge creation around philanthropy. She’d like to see more universities offer philanthropy degrees and studies.

“If that course of study was more widely available, we would have more rigor, more focus, more information available and make better resource allocations around philanthropy,” she said.

Gentles subscribes to the idea that philanthropic services are the third sector of society, after the government and its constituents. It helps connect the dots between what people have and what they need and what the government is able to provide.

“The needs of people, in my estimation, will continue to increase,” she said. “There’s just a finite amount of resources available to the government to connect the dots. I feel like the more knowledge we’re able to create around philanthropic resource allocations, I think that’s going to benefit society in a bigger way, in a more impactful way.

“I think it can be a lot more efficient and a lot more thoughtful in terms of resource allocations to better connect the dots.”

GCU President Brian Mueller has impressed Gentles with his determination to improve the lives of people in west Phoenix.

The dots that connected Gentles to teaching at GCU began when her sister moved to Arizona while on active duty in the Air Force. Carla followed soon after, and her relationship with GCU goes back to before President Brian Mueller began the dramatic changes that have made it the talk of higher education.

She was particularly interested when he announced his Five-Point Plan for the University in 2015, pledging to create jobs, make neighborhoods safer, improve home values, serve families in need and support K-12 education.

“Just to hear him say that out loud and to see what I’ve seen on this campus the last 15 years, it’s pretty amazing,” Gentles said. “When you see it in action, it is so impactful. It makes good sense. It makes for good neighborhoods. I think GCU is making this corner of the world a better place to be.”

She has been similarly impressed by the students she is teaching. Gentles provided training and support for most of her time in the military but had not previously worked in higher education.

“I really enjoy the fresh minds and their take on society and on the world and how they can impact change,” she said. “They have this sense of wonder, and then they have this excitement that they don’t have to settle for what they see before them.”

Karl Gentles is on the CCOB advisory board, and Dr. Randy Gibb, the college’s dean, has known him for years. Gibb views having Carla teach for the college as a story of relationships and involvement becoming so much more.

Dr. Randy Gibb, Dean of the Colangelo College of Business, jumped at the opportunity to add Carla Gentles to his faculty.

“We are blessed to have a business power couple like Karl and Carla part of our college,” Gibb said. “They can impact our students in so many ways. I so respect and appreciate them both because they are all in and enjoy being a part of our high-energy campus.”

Tim Kelley, Chair of Entrepreneurship for GCU, said, “Our CCOB Entrepreneurship program is lucky to have the wisdom of Carla with us.  A great addition to the team.”

Karl and Carla are partners in The Gentles Agency, a public relations firm specializing in government relations, corporate communications and event production. But philanthropy is never far from their minds.

“When we take on new clients, one of the things we always add to our presentation is how they can be impactful philanthropically within their business model,” she said. “We build corporate social responsibility strategies into our advice and counsel. Ultimately, we help deliver meaningful impact for both the community and company.

“We start with the end goal in mind, and then ask, ‘How can we affect the most change?’ A lot of times we make assumptions about how we can help and what is best, but sometimes if you just ask the question, you might get a more meaningful response.”

For example, mental illness is so prevalent among veterans and is another reason she’s so passionate about serving, but she’s careful to split the difference between philanthropy and charity.

“Those two things are used interchangeably, but they’re not necessarily the same thing,” she said. “Philanthropy looks at root causes and solutions versus just resources. Philanthropy seeks to better understand what the actual issue is.”

And seeks to serve.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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