As a girl growing up in the Midwest, Gabrielle Riley remembers tagging along with her father to his job as a carpenter, watching and learning as he designed and remodeled homes.
Years later, she would frame her own career path as an architect after studying at Tuskegee University, the historically black university in Alabama that produced the first professionally trained African American architect in the United States.
Now, working as an associate designer at Portland’s ZGF Architects, Riley serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Minority Architects and the Portland Workforce Alliance. Both leadership positions enable her to work for increased diversity within the profession and greater outreach to minority students.
A PWA board member since 2014 and board secretary since 2015, Riley also coordinates ZGF’s annual Career Day, helping to host 50+ high school students for a day of hands-on activities, a walking tour of downtown, and chats with the firm’s employees.
Not yet 30, Riley is well aware her age, gender and race make her stand out in a profession long dominated by older white males. That’s why it’s important for her to reach out to young people of color and encourage them to see themselves doing the same kind of creative, well-paying work as her.
“I think it’s really important for them to see my face within a profession of about 400 (black) women who are licensed,” Riley says. The proportion of black women architects — less than 1 percent — “is pretty small for African American women,” she notes.
Personal: Riley, also known as Gabby, was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She received her bachelor’s degree in architecture in 2012 and moved to Portland the following year to work for ZGF.
Involvement with PWA: She immediately volunteered to participate in the firm’s Career Day. With the encouragement of Janet Rademacher Hull, a former ZGF associate partner and a past PWA board president, she soon took over as the Career Day facilitator and joined the PWA board in 2014.
Helping students: “My passion has been mentoring youth,” Riley says. “I never had any true career exploration other than going to work with (my father).”
How I want to strengthen the organization and help PWA grow: “I would like to see more employers in the room and more people passionate about the next generation.”