At $524 million, construction of the Milwaukee Bucks’ new arena downtown is easily the biggest project underway in the city. Day in and day out, hundreds of people are hard at work to make sure the arena is completed next year — and 22-year-old Gabrielle Hood is one of them.
Hood, an integrated studies major set to graduate from Alverno in December, is project manager at CButts Electric. She spends about 24 hours per week to ensure the safety and quality of her team’s work at the arena, which encompasses heating and cooling, temperature control and fire alarms.
That’s in addition to maintaining a full class load in her final semester at Alverno, leading the College’s basketball team as point guard (she was named to the All-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference first team after the 2016-17 season), plus volunteering as a literacy tutor and high school softball coach. Oh, and she started her own business, GH Energy Management, which installs and upgrades commercial lighting to be more energy-efficient.
“Gabby’s a go-getter,” says Jessica Ott, director of athletics and head basketball coach. “She has big ideas, but she makes them into reality.”
It’s quite an achievement for someone who, less than three years ago, hadn’t considered the skilled trades as a career path. But a spontaneous home improvement project, undertaken when her parents were out of town, set her on a new path. “My parents wanted a new kitchen, so my sister and I did it. They appreciated it a lot,” she says.
Shortly after, Carlton Butts, Hood’s former Amateur Athletic Union coach and a master electrician who owns his own business, reached out. Within a month, she was working for him. “He let me see the administrative side of things, the business decisions you have to make and what it’s like in the field,” she says. “I just liked it. I have the autonomy to build things that are going to be here for a long time.”
As she learned the trade, she grew to appreciate the skills and smarts needed to succeed. She particularly enjoys the vital and lasting nature of skilled work. “You can’t take the trades away. No matter what you do, a machine’s not going to build the Bucks arena. You have to have people do it. And they’re smart people.”
A supplier she met while working as an electrician remarked upon her drive, the respect she earned from her peers and her desire to be her own boss, suggesting that Hood consider going into business for herself. Thus, GH Energy Management was born in April. Completed projects include installing the specialty lighting for the Freshwater Apartments in the Walker’s Point neighborhood — an exercise in creative thinking and problem-solving, considering the property’s harborside location and its incorporation of water into the landscaping.
“It was awesome. I really enjoyed it,” she says.
With a bright future in the trades, some have asked why Hood is continuing to pursue her college degree. To her, the answer is simple.
“My education is really important to me. I’m the first one in my family who’s going to graduate.” (Younger sister Danielle Hood also attends Alverno and plays basketball.)
What’s more, she says the skills she’s learning at Alverno — namely communication, organization and leadership — are helping her not only be an effective manager but a true leader.
Hood credits Alverno, and the strong role models she encounters here, for helping her thrive in a male-dominated field; according to the U.S. Department of Labor, women accounted for just 2.3 percent of all U.S. electricians in 2015.
“When I walk onto the job site, I am the only woman. So I think that being here [at Alverno] really empowers women and shows them that you don’t have to be under somebody; you can do your own thing, which I think is important,” she says. “I love that about Alverno.”
After Hood graduates in December, she plans to return to Alverno to begin work on a master’s degree and continue playing basketball. She also wants to become a licensed master electrician so she can continue to grow her business and become a certified woman-owned, minority-owned contractor. But she’s also thinking bigger than herself.
“When I have my license, I want to have people from the inner city come work for me, and try to get them in the trades, something that will help them move further in their lives,” she says.
This article originally appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Alverno Magazine.