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Erna Gelles, B.A., M.P.A., Ph.D.

Contact Information
Office: URBN 670 H
Telephone: 503.725.5405


Erna Gelles is an Associate Professor in the Division of Public Administration and Institute for Nonprofit Management.  She holds a bachelor's degree in history from Antioch College, a Masters in Teaching secondary social studies from Colgate University, a MPA in Community, Voluntary and Human Services Administration from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and a doctoral degree in political science from the University of Georgia with foci on government, public policy and public administration with a specific focus on the history and theory of the nonprofit sector.

Research Focus

Her areas of expertise include public administration and organization theory, program evaluation, applied ethics for public and nonprofit administrators, nonprofit theory, and nonprofit management in the human services, and issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

Community Engagements/Service

Dr. Gelles’ non-academic background includes work during the 1980s as the legislative coordinator for Missouri Citizen Action and advocacy trainings for the coalitions' member organizations in Kansas City. This work put her in close contact with over thirty Midwestern 501(c)(3) organizations serving the needs of low income and minority communities across Missouri.  She is as a founding member of the PSU Leadership Fellows Program, is on the board of the Leadership Fellows Alumni Association and is a member of the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette Diverstiy Committee. Dr. Gelles serves on the steering committee of the ARNOVA section on Pracademics, is an emeritus board member of CNRG/Spreading Roots and  charis the PSU Academic Appeals Board. She has recently begun to explore the freedom of an empty nest.  

Publications & Awards

Dr. Gelles' early research and publications include work on distinctions between for-profit and nonprofit organizations in child care and senior care, where market failure exists because clients are too young or too old to be rational decision-makers.  Since coming to Portland State her research has been more applied, addressing community service activities that drive the work of the Institute for Nonprofit Management. Her recent works include the application of Question Mapping as a retrospective tool for assessing community dialogue, and community network analysis among leaders of color serving communities of color through community-based nonprofit organizations.  Studies in these areas are available on the INPM website ( and in Nonprofit Management & Leadership (2009).  A co-authored prospetive Question Mapping chapter, part of a compilation on sustainable dialogue and public deliberation, appears in Resolving Community Conflicts and Problems, published by Columbia University Press (Lohmann and Van Til, 2011).  And with a former doctoral student and colleague an article on the effect of a government-voluntary sector partnership for enhancing post-secondary education access will appear in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (2013, forthcoming).