Gabrielle Gambrell is a dynamo. Her energy and enthusiasm crackle along the telephone line, galvanizing her poised, stream-of-consciousness speaking style.
“I’m Gabby,” she says by way of nickname and description. “I have the gift of gab.” Not to mention passion and intelligence. Note her cleverly titled website, giftofgabrielle.com. That alone should clue you in to a woman who at a young age has already had a prodigious, groundbreaking career in marketing and communications. Most recently, she served as vice president and head of marketing and communications at Columbia University’s Barnard College — the first black woman to hold that title as well as the youngest since the college’s founding in 1889.
That Gambrell is now applying her marketing and communications gifts to a bigger role at Iona College — she’s been named to the board of trustees as the appointed representative of the college’s alumni board of directors, where she has served since 2017 — is no surprise.
“I fell in love with the place,” she says. “Going to Iona was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Not only did she earn a bachelor’s degree in mass communications with honors and a master’s degree in public relations with a concentration in entertainment and sports at the school, but it afforded her networking opportunities and introduced her to her future husband. (More on that in a bit.)
After serving as an intern and then production assistant on ABC’s “Live With Regis and Kelly” — she praises Regis Philbin, who died July 24, and Kelly Ripa as class acts — and contacting “every single alumni in media and entertainment” on the college’s list, Gambrell connected with Martin “Marty” Daly, a senior executive at CBS. What followed was a series of executive positions — manager of communications at CBS Corp., director of communications at NBCUniversal and worldwide director of communications and public relations at the advertising agency FCB Global — in which she was able to expand the companies’ accomplishments in and commitment to diversity and inclusion. (At NBC, she launched #NBCBLK28, using the 28 days of February, Black History Month, to honor 28 innovators and game changers age 28 and under.)
Now Gambrell says she’s excited to do the same as an Iona trustee, having already met with student leaders, whose enthusiasm for these subjects mirrors her own. The college, she adds, has done a good job with diversity and inclusion. She remembers as a student taking a history class that opened her mind to the rich story of Haiti and its contributions to world culture. But Iona can do more, she says, as we all can.
“Black history is American history,” she says. “I think at this point we have to be authentic about what American history is.”
Education is a Gambrell passion. A fourth-generation college graduate, there was never any doubt where this West Los Angeles native was headed as she road the bus to Palisades Charter High School, formerly Pacific Palisades High School, watching dolphins dance upon the ocean along the way. With kids bussed in from all over LA, “Pali,” consistently rated one of the best high schools in the United States, has had a diverse student body. But when you got to the AP (Advanced Placement) classes, the student body was less diverse, Gambrell says. She made sure that she was in those AP classes and not only served as editor in chief of the school newspaper but actually taught a journalism class at the school at age 16. When it came time for college, Gambrell remembered the tradition of going away to Howard University in Washington, D.C. was well-established in her family. But New York was her media-centric goal and Iona was on her short list, along with Columbia and Syracuse universities. She interviewed for Iona aboard the Queen Mary. When she visited the campus, it all clicked.
In addition to her work as a career mentor and an advisory board member of Iona’s sports, entertainment and media innovation department, Gambrell is a New York University graduate adjunct professor of integrated marketing and communications. Having taught online, she’ll be teaching on-site this fall. (Iona offers courses in-person and online.)
“My preference is to be in the classroom,” she says, adding, however, that she is surprised at how much can be accomplished online, including office hours on FaceTime and Zoom. She’ll be juggling the classroom with a busy life at home in White Plains. She and husband Jeffrey Gambrell, who is assistant vice president of asset management for the New York City Economic Development Corp., are the parents of 10-month-old Jeffrey II.
“He’s an active little one, already trying to talk and walk and lighting up our lives.”
Like mother, like son.