With a Degree from SLU, Yvette Clairjeane’s Career Trajectory Soars

Yvette Clairjeane is determined to succeed.  And with a Master’s degree in Urban Studies from SLU, that is exactly what is happening.

How did she arrive at SLU? “I was working (and still am) at the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP), and I was looking for a program with evening classes so I could improve my skills. I discovered the Advanced Certificate program through SLU’s partnership with the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). I thought the courses would help me in advancing my career. So I started out in the public policy certificate program.”

The certificate jump-started Yvette’s career progression. “I started out at the DCP as a research assistant in Counsel’s Office (legal division). After getting my certificate from SLU, I was given additional responsibilities and joined the business improvement team, which works to improve DCP’s business processes and make the agency more efficient. What I studied at SLU was really helpful in learning how the city runs, not just at my agency, but through all the services the city provides to its residents.”

Yvette subsequently enrolled in the MA URB program, and finished her degree in two years.  “I did it at warp speed. I took two classes each semester, and one semester I took three—all while working full-time. I knew that this degree would advance my career.”

And just how did SLU contribute to her career advancement?  “The majority of my classmates were professionals and we were all very focused and able to apply the concepts we were learning to our careers. ‘Urban Public Management’ and ‘Delivery of Urban Public Services’ with Prof. Bettina Damiani were particularly relevant,” Yvette said. “They were connected, and there was a real-life application to them because most of my classmates were city employees and we learned to understand how managers facilitate the delivery of services.” She added, “I also really enjoyed ‘Classical Approaches to Urban Studies’ with Dr. Kafui Attoh. “Although they were long-standing approaches, they were also pertinent to current life.  I used Zuccotti Park and the Occupy Wall Street movement for my photo essay project. Zuccotti Park is a POPS, a “Privately Owned Public Space.” The project connected with the work some of my colleagues at DCP engage in, as POPS were introduced through the City’s zoning regulations which DCP maintains. The Occupy movement was a pivotal time in NYC’s history as thousands took to the to the city streets and made their voices heard.”

Yvette added praise for SLU’s student support services. “The Writing Center was also exceptionally vital to my academic experience. Michael Rymer worked with me in virtual sessions during my lunch breaks, as I worked during the day. His support and second pair of eyes, really got me through that whirlwind two-year program.”

So where is Yvette’s career trajectory at now?  “This March, I joined DCP’s Human Capital Team, and I am now the Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager. This is a great job for me. I am really passionate about diversity and equity and inclusion, which are all issues that are growing in recognition and are a big topic of the current conversations in our society, particularly around justice and equity. I want to be a part of the change in creating more equitable avenues for all our communities, particularly communities of color.”

And Yvette is still striving to learn more and reach higher. “I’m currently participating in the Coro Leadership New York, a 9-month program that brings together mid-career professionals from the public, private and non-profit sectors,” she said. “We are working on developing our leadership skills, understanding different perspectives, and learning how to impact the city.  The first part is leadership training, and then there is an opportunity for us to participate in City Issue Day. You select a topic you’re not very familiar with, and then spend time with a group to examine those issues. We are all interested in creating and strengthening a fairer city.”

Does Yvette have any advice for current SLU students?  “My first piece of advice is to connect with the amazing professionals at the Writing Center. They can help take your writing to the next level. Second, make connections with your professors, because they have a wealth of knowledge and a wide network of colleagues,” she said. “And also with your classmates—especially if someone is working in a different sector or agency, because sharing different points of views expands your own thinking and understanding.  So you can build your own network. That’s how you get ahead.”

Clearly, when it comes to her career trajectory, for Yvette Clairjeane the sky is the limit.

Gabriela Quintanilla is a DREAMer

Gabriela Quintanilla is a DREAMer. And she has some big dreams.

Born in El Salvador, Gabriela came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant at age 13 and grew up in the Catskills region of New York. She went to high school in Liberty, and was very active in her student government. When President Obama issued the executive order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the local press wanted to interview her. “I suddenly realized that everyone in my school and my community would know that I was undocumented,” said Gabriela, “but I wanted to share my story and raise awareness.”

Raising awareness is something Gabriela cared about from an early age. Her mother worked at a poultry factory for 12 years, and that’s how Gabriela became involved with the Rural & Migrant Ministry. “I joined RMM when I was 14,” she said. “I saw my mother’s situation and I wanted to know more about her rights. Every year we would go to Albany and my mother would share her story. In RMM I worked alongside women who really wanted to make a change in what is like a forgotten land. People in the City don’t understand that rural upstate New York isn’t just about growing apples. It’s about isolated factory workers and farmworkers who have been forgotten.”

After earning her degree in sociology at SUNY Stony Brook, Gabriela returned to RMM, serving as the organization’s Western New York Coordinator. “My job revolved around coalition-building. I worked alongside farmworkers who year after year shared their stories of oppression with legislators. I also organized community members to go to Albany and support The Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act. The Farm Workers Bill had been around for 20 years. It was about getting farmworkers to be protected by New York labor laws. That they deserved a day of rest, overtime, and the right to collectively bargain. And eventually, we won.” Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on July 17, 2019.

Gabriela learned about SLU four years ago when she met Laurie Kellogg and Diana Robinson at a food chain workers event. “I wanted to go to graduate school, and I thought SLU would be a good fit for me, with its emphasis on the labor movement. But I had just moved to the Finger Lakes and I wasn’t ready to make another change. I had always dreamed of living in New York City, and last summer I decided to make the move—in the middle of a pandemic. The first month was really hard—I’m an extrovert, and the lack of community was just awful. But I accomplished my goal: I’m enrolled at SLU, in my first semester in the Labor Studies MA program.” She sighed. “Online.”

Gabriela says she’s lucky—she had a great support system that helped her get her education. “Others aren’t so fortunate. So in 2015 I founded Adelante Student Voices, an organization that provides a safe space for New York’s undocumented students to explore their legal status and find routes to college. They learn about New York State’s DREAM Act, the legislation that allows eligible undocumented students to apply for financial aid for college. So far, 55 students have gone through our program and 26 have been able to go to college.”

Asked what she wants to learn at SLU, Gabriela replied, “I’m curious to explore how non-profit organizations have been able to achieve changes in the law without relying on unions. When you think about the labor movement you automatically think unions, but there are many other organizations that should be included. There needs to be a way to bridge the gap. I’m hoping my professors and my classmates can help me figure that out.”

She added, “I’m enjoying learning about urban issues and how labor issues play out in the city. But I also want to bring a different perspective, from my own experience. I want to find out how we can bring the most marginalized communities to the forefront of the labor movement. I want people to think about the issues that impact rural areas and those vulnerable and forgotten workers, many of them undocumented. I’m fortunate to have my green card now and I’ve applied for citizenship. And I will utilize this privilege to bring forward those who are marginalized to decision-making tables.”

She paused. “I’m not going to forget them.”


A Debate on Bargaining for the Common Good

In this piece from Organizing Work, Marianne Garneau debates with labor organizer and journalist Chris Brooks and veteran union negotiator Joe Burns about Bargaining for the Common Good and its use as a model for connecting workplace fights with broader social demands.

Read part one and part two here.


Strike for Democracy

Labor Studies Professor Stephanie Luce writes about organizing in the labor movement to defend democracy in the event of a contested election. She notes that some unions are trying to connect their core activists with local “protect the vote” groupings in key states and cities to show up to polls and fight to make sure every vote is counted.

Read it here in Organizing Upgrade.


Photo Credit: Joe Brusky

Old Wine in New Bottles: Gender and the Gig Economy

Ruth Milkman has published “Old wine in new bottles: gender and the gig economy” about her study (along with Luke Elliott-Negri, Kathleen Griesbach, and Adam Reich) of the platform-based food economy, which had an explosion in demand when COVID-19 hit. She found that the majority of the workers were white women, and describes the “class-gender nexus” of this element of the gig economy.

Read about it in WorkinProgress.


Photo Credit: Leo Chen via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

How Does the Past Look from Here?

In “How Does the Past Look From Here? Notes from a historian” SLU faculty member Joshua Freeman compares today’s pandemic and politics to the events preceding and following the flu epidemic of 1918, and argues that this time, the yearning for a return to “normality” may be misplaced.

Read it here in Moyers on Democracy.


Photo Credit: Influenza Hospital Ward (Library of Congress)

A conversation about workers, communities and social justice

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