ILR course led to internship, law school for Grace Guichardo

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Joe Schwartz

What a difference one semester and one ILR School course can make.

For Grace Guichardo '10, that semester was sophomore year. And it was a real life-changer. "I took Professor Michael Gold's labor and employment law class," she said. "I dreaded the assignments -- working on legal analyses."

As Guichardo started to learn and get better at it, she realized at the end of the class, "I could see myself doing this."

This experience led to a credit internship at Walt Disney World. As the only intern in the HR compliance department, Guichardo dealt with such issues as discrimination and sexual harassment.

She says this was an empowering experience: "I was the first point of contact for many employees making claims, especially if they were Spanish-speaking since I could help translate their statements."

ILR labor and labor law courses prepared her well for this role, Guichardo said. When Disney employees -- or "cast members" -- would bring a complaint to her, she could tell them if it was legitimate or not, based on the law.

She also applied practical skills developed at ILR that helped her handle human issues, like calming people who were upset or angry, or "telling them in a nice way that you really can't file that complaint, but we're still here to help."

The daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Guichardo said the internship laid the foundation for her senior thesis on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. "I wanted to learn about the actual experiences minorities have in the workplace and the factors that make them feel more or less included," she said.

For this project, she interviewed 30 ILR alumni from a variety of work settings with a range of job titles. "I asked them, 'Can you be yourself at work or do you need to check your identity at the door?'" A major theme emerging from her work is that "performance and credentials trump ethnicity."

"It surprised me that a lot of the individuals I interviewed worked in organizations that aren't very diverse and didn't see a lot of people like themselves. But they still felt included because they were in an organization that recognizes talent and rewards people based on performance, despite race and ethnicity," Guichardo said.

Guichardo plans to attend law school next fall, probably with a focus on employment and discrimination law. She's been accepted at Boston University and is waiting to hear from Cornell and Columbia.

Guichardo, whose twin sister completes her degree this spring at Cornell's Hotel School, concluded: "When I came to ILR, I didn't know what I was going to do. But ILR has given me opportunities to do things I never would have imagined. I found my aspirations here."

Joe Zappala is director of ILR School marketing and communications.

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