Kate Bronfenbrenner ’76, Ph.D. ’93, director of Labor Education Research and an ILR School senior lecturer, has won this year’s George D. Levy Faculty Award.
The award, from the Office of Engagement Initiatives, recognizes a faculty member whose collaborative efforts with communities have resulted in exemplary and sustained community-engaged learning projects. The award includes a $5,000 grant.
Bronfenbrenner worked for many years as an organizer and union representative with the United Woodcutters Association in Mississippi and with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Boston, as well as a welfare rights organizer in Seattle, Washington.
Since joining the Cornell faculty in 1993, she has worked on numerous research projects involving union and employer strategies in organizing and bargaining, as well as the impact of trade policy on employment, wages and unionization.
“Kate Bronfenbrenner has a long history of working closely with students, connecting them with opportunities in the labor movement,” said Alexander Colvin, Ph.D. ’99, the Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and the Martin F. Scheinman Professor of Conflict Resolution in the ILR School.
“She involves them directly in applied research projects on topics of major importance to unions, bringing them both new insights on the research process and an understanding of important issues for labor organizations,” Colvin said. “Her connections to the labor community and eagerness to engage students with these relationships are tremendously valuable to their education. Her work has been an outstanding example of community-engaged learning and her former students attest to the deep impact she has made on their careers and future journeys.”
An Engaged Faculty Fellow, Bronfenbrenner is working on a qualitative research study, titled “Harvest of Struggle.” It builds on her years of quantitative research on organizing to examine the long-term impact of unionization on low-wage women of color.
“Kate works closely with students, workers and the broader community,” said Karen Li ’15, a research analyst at 32BJ SEIU, the largest property service workers union in the country. “She is a mentor to countless young people, women and people of color who are involved in the labor and social justice movement, and her research is instrumental to unions and their campaigns to raise wages and standards for all workers.”
Over the years, Bronfenbrenner has collected statistics showing that women of color are among those fighting hardest for unionization and are taking leadership roles, despite perceptions that unions are primarily dominated by white men. Her current research will include the voices of women of color, and address how unionization has impacted them.
“Kate has taught me a lot about research, but I would say the main thing I’ve gained from her are lessons in resilience,” said Lydia Zheng ’20, who has worked with Bronfenbrenner for three years. “Kate never makes excuses for herself, and her tenacity is what allowed her to find success as a labor organizer, and what allows her now to find success as a professor and researcher.”
Julie Greco is a communications specialist with the ILR School.