Jennifer Abele (MPA ’01) has served Milwaukee in many leadership roles, including as leader of the Milwaukee Water Works and chief partnership officer for UW–Milwaukee. She joined the La Follette School’s Board of Visitors in October.
After earning her MPA from the La Follette School in 2001, Abele served as a lead financial analyst and planner for the City of Milwaukee. In 2012, she was the youngest person to ever be appointed to the Mayoral cabinet when she was selected to lead the city’s governmental relations team. She stayed in city leadership for 17 years, culminating in a second cabinet role leading the Milwaukee Water Works, which is a regional water utility serving 1 million customers.
In 2018, Abele left city hall to join the cabinet of another important Milwaukee institution, the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. As chief partnership officer, she built a new team focused on major campus partnerships, corporate engagement, government, and external relations. Outside of work, she has served on various community boards and is often consulted for strategic advice. Her commitment to making an imprint on Milwaukee is evident in having worked for four mayors and being involved in a variety of highly visible projects that have shaped the future of the city. This includes the construction of the Fiserv Forum, the Milwaukee Streetcar, the new Lakefront Interchange, securing the 2024 Republican National Committee Convention, the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute, and the Connected Systems Institute, amongst others.
At the end of 2022, Abele left the university to found an emerging venture capital firm, VC 414, with her business partner, Raquel Filmanowicz. She now serves as managing partner of the firm, which invests in startups founded by women and other undercapitalized founders.
“I’ve always worked in public service-type leadership roles, and in each of those roles, I’ve been in the position of having a high impact on individuals and their barriers and challenges in a very large urban community with many socioeconomic challenges,” says Abele. “I came to the realization several years ago that my work was really reactive to problems and barriers that were already there and that I needed to go further upstream and give people the tools that would empower them to create generational wealth and upward mobility.”
The La Follette School Board of Visitors provides important guidance by identifying resources that can raise the stature and standing of the school. Board members also help with fundraising and providing career advice to students, and act as goodwill ambassadors. The La Follette School is grateful to Abele for sharing her extensive expertise with the board and the school.