Alumni Profile: Gabrielle O’Grady, Class of 2020

Why did you decide to attend the program at CCNY? What do you like about it?

I found the Sustainability in the Urban Environment Master’s Program when I decided I wanted a career change. After a few positions in clinical research and at the emergency room, when it was time to commit to medical school something was stopping me–it was my fascination for the built environment. 

My grandfather came to this country as a master cabinetmaker. I would visit his shop and bask in the scent of fresh cut lumber. With his help, my parents built the house I grew up in. I loved looking at blueprints and learning the science behind fine craftsmanship (crafts-woman-ship?). I decided on a pre-med undergraduate track (my other grandfather’s profession) because I wanted a career of service. As I grew, I learned more about green and resilient buildings, the health, social, and environmental impacts of well-managed land, water, and waste, and that I could be a steward in this field too. Our buildings and environmental design decisions play pivotal roles in our health and may prevent that trip to the doctor in the first place.

The Sustainability Program at CCNY was exactly what I was looking for in an education. Its interdisciplinary nature creates a well-rounded candidate and provides the freedom to hone in on a specialty within the architecture, engineering, environmental, or social aspect of the program. With a solid, hands-on education, matched with an equally great price point, the college truly wants you to succeed. CCNY does not fall short of its reputation as the “Harvard of the proletariat”. 

How did the staff, faculty, and work with other students shape your career aspirations?

The program would not have been the same without the people I met through it. I think it might be the nature of the program and the curriculum, but something attracts big-hearted individuals. I felt welcome from first day on campus. 

The program managers that I have had (George and Katherine) want to make the program fit with your life, guide you to your career ambitions, and match you with professional opportunities. The professors are some of the best in their field and work at some of the top institutions in the industry. They are also very passionate about and seem to enjoy their work, something that lets you know you are on the right path. One of my favorites was Professor Susan Kaplan, a building material spec writer. She stays on top of her evolving field, finds unique ways to present material, and brings in brilliant guest lecturers. 

My colleagues have been some of my greatest resources and have become lifelong friends. Our graduate class was very diverse and included architects from Bolivia, social scientists from Colombia, and engineers from the United States. For class projects, professors would try to mix students with different backgrounds so that we could learn from each other’s professional and cultural experiences. Professors and colleagues would also share information about upcoming events relevant to our field of study, happening throughout the city and there were always a few colleagues willing to get together to attend with me.  

What are your plans after graduation?

I was offered a full-time position at the CUNY Building Performance Laboratory (where I interned as a student). I plan to keep connected with my classmates and always continue learning through talks, conferences, certifications, and many great podcasts!

When did you graduate?

I just graduated this May of 2020! (in a very extraordinary COVID-19 graduation ceremony).

Can you share information about any particular fellowships, programs and/or projects that you participated in?

Absolutely. As I mentioned, I received a full-time offer from the CUNY Building Performance Laboratory (BPL), where I interned as a graduate student. I received the internship about a year ago from my capstone advisor who is the Executive Director. Every student in the Sustainability Program will complete a capstone project. The capstone is a year-long group project on a topic of your choice that allows you to produce meaningful work. My team’s project focused on “Data-Driven Energy Management” and resulted in useable findings and was ultimately funded by the school. The project aligned with the work at BPL and my two capstone teammates and I were offered internships. I work in high-performance building operations and practices. At BPL, the managers invest heavily in teaching interns. 

Another opportunity I was granted through the Sustainability Program was the 2019 New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) September 11th Memorial Program Scholarship. The Sustainability Program Manager forwarded all the graduates information about this program and I persistently applied two years in a row before being awarded it. The program allows students to work on innovative research and planning projects at a transportation agency while in school. The best part is you have a professional mentor throughout your project. I worked at the NYC Department of Transportation in the Transportation Planning and Management Division. My project was to produce and publish the 2020 Mobility Management Resource Guide, a one-stop-shop of all accessible transportation programs and services in New York City. The program offers tuition reimbursement, professional development funds, and a monthly stipend to all recipients.

Working simultaneously in relevant fields allowed me to apply the knowledge and skills I gained in class right away and helped make the material stick. Furthermore, I could ask my professors in class about questions that I came across while working in the field. 

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