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Robin C. Nagele
Photo courtesy of Robin Nagele

Robin C. Nagele never met his father. His mother — who bartended to provide for her three sons as a single mom — dealt with bouts of alcoholism. After his older brother dropped out of high school, Nagele followed suit his first week as a 10th-grader. In 1986, Nagele’s oldest brother committed suicide.

Nagele — the odds stacked emphatically against him — had a decision to make as a high school dropout with a broken-home background: Become another statistic, or become something better. Nagele could have given in. He got to work instead.

Nagele (pronounced ‘Nay-gull’), who was born and raised in Staten Island, spent the three years after he dropped out of high school working full-time as a house-framer, stonemason and roofer. After meeting his future wife, Alecia, as a teenager, Nagele elected to join the U.S. Army. He ended up serving for more than two decades in the Army’s Military Police Corps, honorably retiring in 2006 at the senior rank of sergeant major (E-9).

“To be honest, I think the work ethic was just in my DNA,” said Nagele, now 50 years old. “When you’re in circumstances like I was, you’re either a survivor or you’re not. You can either get swallowed up by society or you can become a contributing member of it. I grew up fast. In New York City, when you’re 18 you’re like 25 somewhere else. I was 16 when I met my wife. I was shooting pool in New Jersey at a bar at 16, if that tells you anything.

“When I met Alecia, I was working full-time. I was just one of those guys who had a strong work ethic. I didn’t believe in sitting back and licking my wounds. I wanted to go to work. When I met her that really fueled me to want to be better for myself and for us, y’know?”

Nagele, who said the decision to join the Military Police Corps hit him “like a lightning bolt” after he saw one of the Army’s TV commercials, was promoted ahead of his peers at every rank. Upon being named sergeant three years into his tenure, Nagele made staff sergeant three years later. He earned the ranking of E-7 and E-8 before being promoted to E-9 in the 18th year of his 21-year career. Nagele attributed his rapid rise to surrounding himself with quality individuals and the Army’s commitment to breeding capable leaders like himself.

“I looked at my LinkedIn connections and saw that many of the people I served with years and years ago were graduates of Webster. And I had never known that. So that led me to look at Webster. The more I dove into the history of the university, the college resonated with me. And I just kept going back to it.”
— Robin C. Nagele

“The Army taught me how to take care of people and how you reap the benefits of giving. You give yourself to others first. It was soldiers first — the Army’s all about that,” Nagele said. “Leadership is not about yourself and positioning yourself to look good. It’s about empowering people to do their job, making them feel good about themselves and just watching them flourish. That is what leaders do. They master the craft of growing other people into leaders.”

A year before retiring from the Army, Nagele became the first member of his family to obtain a college degree when he collected a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Excelsior College (N.Y.) in 2005, doing so in cum-laude fashion. Seven years later, Nagele earned a Master of Arts in management and leadership from Webster University. And four years after that, in 2016, Nagele acquired a second master’s degree from Webster, this one in business and organizational security management. Nagele said he selected Webster for his graduate degrees because of the university’s lineage and military-friendly approach.

“I looked at my LinkedIn connections and saw that many of the people I served with years and years ago were graduates of Webster. And I had never known that,” Nagele said. “So that led me to look at Webster. The more I dove into the history of the university, the college resonated with me. And I just kept going back to it.”

Nagele, who lives in Clearwater, Fla., attended Webster’s St. Petersburg campus en route to picking up his first master’s degree before taking online classes for his second master’s. Nagele said Alecia — who he’s been married to for 31 years — was supremely supportive of his educational endeavors, while his mother and two sons were “super proud” of his accomplishments. Nagele called the feeling of realizing his educational dream “overwhelming.”

“Even still, when I look at the degrees on my wall here in my office at home, the first one was surreal,” he said. “I mean, I was just overwhelmed with joy and excitement that I actually achieved that level of education. It’s indescribable.”

Robin C. Nagele
Photo courtesy of Robin Nagele

Nagele posted a photo of himself holding his two Webster degrees accompanied by a short description of his trying background on LinkedIn, and the post went viral. It received more than 6.5 million views — so many, in fact, that LinkedIn’s ‘Like’ counter broke on the post and actually started to go backward. Nagele made sure to respond to every message that came flooding in. He said he thinks the post was popular because of its authentic and inspirational message that resonated with so many people.

Since his time in the Army concluded, Nagele has worked as a security professional in both the private and corporate sectors, including a stint at Starbucks’ headquarters. Nagele is currently self-employed as a security adviser who provides personal protection, and he’s working toward transitioning his career to consulting in leadership and organization development. Wherever his career takes him, Nagele said as long as he has the opportunity to fulfill his greatest passion — helping people — he’ll be right where he belongs.

“I’ve been a man of action ever since I can remember,” Nagele said. “That’s from the simplistic things of holding a door or helping someone with a package to being the first guy to slide into a situation where somebody has fallen down and had a heart attack. I’m that guy. And I’ve been that way my whole life. I’m just passionate about people.

“(I want my legacy to be) how a kid from New York City went from — I don’t want to say rags to riches — but from nothing to something. It’s as simple as that. As long as I can leave this earth knowing I had a positive impact on people’s lives, gave them hope and made them feel better about themselves, my work is done. That is really what’s fueling me now.”