Category Archives: Alumni Spotlight

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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.

Deran Cadotte’s Story of Worker Victory!

Six years ago, Deran Cadotte was weighing his options for a degree in urban policy. He walked into The Murphy Institute and met with June Cumberbatch, advisor to the Urban Studies BA Program and his decision was made. “I immediately felt at home,” Deran reports.

In the fall of 2014, while working full-time, Deran began his academic and professional journey towards the next stage of his career in the non-profit world. As a part of his coursework, Deran happened upon a Labor Studies course. Little did he know that a class outside of his field of study would come in handy.

Deran graduated in Spring 2018 and moved back to his native Minnesota, where he began work at St. Stephen’s Human Services, a not-for-profit that works to end homelessness and expand housing stability in the city of Minneapolis. On his first day on the job, Deran learned of the efforts at St. Stephen’s to unionize. The last attempt had been two years previous, and many of the workers who were involved were subsequently terminated. But while history had not shone favorably on organizing at St. Stephen’s, Deran and his co-workers did not allow that to deter them.

Their goals included parity for shelter workers and wage increases on par with other agencies in the field. They called for a cultural shift, too – including organizational transparency, a workers’ safety committee, and as Deran aptly describes, “for the voices of those with boots on the ground to have the same credence as executive voices.” With the bargaining unit comprising 80% of the organization, workers at St. Stephen’s voted by a 90% majority to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

After one unfair labor practice and 49 weeks of bargaining, Deran and his co-workers ratified their first contract. Through the solidarity of members across titles, they won 4% wage increases across the board, and another 5% for seniority. In order to address the wage disparity faced by shelter workers, caseworkers halted their own wage increases. The union even won their most coveted demand – “just cause.” Allowing for job security, just cause places the burden of proof on the employer and formally eliminates at-will employment.

Two days after the contract was ratified, Deran received a promotion and was elevated out of the bargaining unit. Deran and his co-workers continue to strive towards a more equitable and democratically-run workplace – conversations that have taken on a new gravity given the darkness that fell over Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd.

When asked what advice Deran would give to those seeking to organize their workplaces, he responded, “The hallmark answer would be ‘if it feels right in your heart, you’ll probably win.’ You have to get the support of people who are not just in the same rank as you – even if they can’t be a part of the bargaining unit, just knowing they have your back will help move you forward. Persist! Be curious and prepared to learn.”

He added a hint to combat self-doubt: “You know it. You know you know it. Just go do it!”

For a lift in spirits, watch this video of Deran Cadotte and AFSCME Local 999’s journey towards unionization.

Alumni Achievement Album: Kristina Ramos-Callan

Spend five minutes talking to Kristina Ramos-Callan, and one thing is absolutely clear: Kristina Ramos-Callan cares.

Kristina is a program manager for United Hospital Fund (UHF), where she has worked for over 13 years. “Working in the health care field kind of came naturally to me,” she said. “I didn’t envision it at first, but a lot of my family members worked at the old St. Vincent’s hospital in Greenwich Village, and I started working there myself when I was 17 as a ward clerk in a neo-natal intensive care unit. Over time, I became a caregiver myself—for my daughter, my parents and grandparents— and it became important to me to understand not just the role of the caregiver, but the larger issues of providing care at the community level, health care education and advocacy, and getting health care research and programs funded.”

“That’s what brought me to SLU,” she added. “I started out in the health care administration certificate program, and my very first class was on health care disparities, with Justin Laird. That course pulled everything together for me—my work at UHF, my personal experience as a caregiver, my background as a Latina who grew up in East New York, a poor community with limited access to health care. It was my ‘aha’ moment—that I could take what I learned in this course and every other course and apply it to my career. So, I got into the MAUS program.”

Kristina describes her organization as a think tank working to build a more effective health care system for the city and state, focused on improving affordability and access, quality and patient experience, and health equity for all New Yorkers. “We analyze public policy and make policy recommendations; and are also involved in strategic planning and quality improvement. For example, last summer we published a paper called The Road Forward: Framework for a Population Health Approach to Health and Housing Partnerships, which recommends developing community-wide partnerships between health care, housing, homeless services providers, and policymakers to help address New York City’s housing, homelessness, and health care crises.”

“In September, we launched the Pediatrics for an Equitable Developmental Start (PEDS) Learning Network, which aims to reduce inequities in childhood by increasing the number of young children receiving primary-care based interventions that promote and support healthy development.” Kristina developed an online resource for child health care practitioners for that initiative.

When COVID-19 hit New York City, Kristina also developed a list of COVID-19 resources for pediatricians and families that drew national notice. She just co-authored a new report, COVID-19 Ripple Effect: The Impact of COVID-19 on Children in New York State, which found that thousands of New York chidren had
lost a parent or guardian to the virus. Over the summer she also wrote a commentary on the intersection of the coronavirus and the housing crisis in New York City entitled Critical Connections: Coordinating Health and Housing Needs during COVID-19. “The pandemic has driven so many people out of work, so many are experiencing economic hardship and are in danger of losing their housing,” Kristina said. “There was a moratorium on evictions, but as soon as that is lifted—and it eventually will be—people will start being processed for eviction. And it’s a fact that housing insecurity and homelessness are major drivers of increased health care needs and health system utilization. There is an entire group of people who are on the precipice of a major crisis, and a potential for surge in use of the health care system that will further complicate the response to the pandemic.”

What advice does Kristina have for SLU’s students? She paused, then said, “Two momentous things are happening right now: the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black and Brown
communities and low-income working class communities; and the ascendant acknowledgment and response to the epidemic of racism in the United States. Both have dramatically increased attention to
the legacy of racism—pervasive structural racism and implicit biases that many of us face, day to day; it can’t be ignored. People outside the civil rights and activism communities are finally waking up. It’s a new dawn for tackling structural inequities, because many more people’s eyes have been opened. They are finally starting to care. So, you are in exactly the right place at the right time. Use what you learn here at SLU to help change what needs to change.”

News from the SLU Community September 2020

For the second year in a row, Dean Gregory Mantsios has been named to City & State New York’s annual “Labor Power 100” list, which recognizes the most influential figures—activists, educators, community leaders and elected officials—in New York labor: Dean Mantsios was specifically lauded for having spent decades building programs in labor studies, which culminated in our School! In addition to Dean Mantsios, a number of SLU’s Advisory Board members and other friends of SLU are recognized. Read about all of them here. 
On October 1st, Diana Robinson will be recognized by NSPC Brain & Spine Surgery at a virtual event: “Salute to Labor: Honoring Members of the Labor Community and the Organizations that Support Them.”
Another SLU adjunct faculty member, Patricia Campos-Medina, has been elevated to co-Executive Director of The Worker Institute at Cornell. Here are ILR’s announcement and Patricia’s Facebook post.
Camille Rivera, who taught “Campaigns and Elections” last semester at SLU, has just been named by City & State New York to their list of “100 Power Latinas in New York State (#55). Read about Camille here.
On August 15th, Marie Romani was awarded an Masters of Science in higher education administration by Barry University in Florida. Marie began her program last August, and completed the one-year accelerated online program with a GPA of 3.917. In addition, Marie was inducted into the Tri Sigma Alpha Student Affairs Honor Society during her final semester. She sends special regards to her frequent classmate, Orson Barzola, who is currently in the same program.
Marie is planning to walk in Barry’s commencement in December, and has already bought her cap and gown.Congratulations, Marie!
SLU’s Community and Worker Ownership Project has welcomed a new intern, Lesly Calle. Lesly is a fourth-year Macaulay Honors student at the City College of New York. She is pursuing a major in Economics with a minor in Public Policy and is interested in social justice, economic inequality, and environmental policy. Last fall, Lesly was selected to be part of the inaugural cohort of Climate Policy Fellows at CCNY’s Colin Powell School of Civic and Global Leadership, where she worked with a team to develop a policy brief on single-use plastic mitigation and its effects on climate change. Welcome Lesly!
Rob Callaghan is proud to announce a new arrival! Rob’s wife, the writer Joni Murphy, recently delivered a new novel, Talking Animals (MacMillan 2020). The publisher describes it as “a fable for our times [that] takes place in an all-animal world where creatures rather like us are forced to deal with an all-too-familiar landscape of soul-crushing jobs, polluted oceans, and a creeping sense of doom.” In its write-up Slate calls the book “a scathing allegory about capitalism starring an alpaca.”

SLU Alum Nastaran Mohit in Teen Vogue

To get more people organizing labor, more people need to know what organizers actually do. Which is why we were thrilled to see Teen Vogue feature a day in the life of Nastaran Mohit: labor champion, current organizing director of the NewsGuild of New York — and SLU alum. From the article:

It’s a tough time to be in journalism. Revenue sources are dwindling and new layoffs seem to be announced every day — and the COVID-19 pandemic sent another shockwave through the industry. That’s where Nastaran Mohit comes in. As organizing director of the NewsGuild of New York, Mohit works to unionize the staff at newspapers, magazines and online publications, so that reporters, editors and social media staff have access to the benefits and protections they so sorely need. The NewsGuild, a sector of the Communications Workers of America, represents more than 24,000 journalists and other media workers across the U.S. and Canada. Mohit has led successful campaigns to unionize publications including The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine and BuzzFeed. Here’s a window into the life of a busy union organizer.

Read about a day in the life of Nastaran here.

SLU Alum Liam Lynch Fights for Worker Safety During Pandemic

Liam Lynch (M.A. Labor Studies 2015) is on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. Not in a hospital, but in a classroom. Not wielding a stethoscope and a thermometer, but a Powerpoint presentation and the law.

Liam works as a Safety & Health Specialist with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a non-profit comprised of workers, unions, community-based organizations, workers’ rights activists, and health and safety professionals committed to defending every individual’s right to a safe and healthy workplace. Continue reading SLU Alum Liam Lynch Fights for Worker Safety During Pandemic