Cornell University

May 10 2010

Turning Points

Course led to internship, thesis and an unfolding future for Guichardo '10

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

For Grace Guichardo '10, that semester came in her sophomore year. And it was a real life-changer.

"I took Professor Michael Gold's labor and employment law class. 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 another major turning point at ILR, a credit internship at Walt Disney World.

As the only intern in the HR compliance department, she dealt with issues including 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 prepared her well for this role, Guichardo said, because of what she had learned in labor and labor law courses. 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 Dominican Republic immigrants, Guichardo says this internship laid the foundation for another milestone in her college career, the completion of a senior thesis focused 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."

Her adviser for the research project was Professor Lisa Nishii, who Guichardo calls an "excellent teacher." Only those seniors in the top 20 percent of their class who maintained that academic standing over four years are eligible to work on a thesis.

For this project, she interviewed 30 ILR alumni from a variety of work settings and 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."

As commencement day draws closer, Guichardo prepares to begin a new journey in the fall at law school, probably with a focus on employment and discrimination law. She says her internship steered her in this direction, as did a course she took with ILR Professor Kate Griffith. 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, says it's bittersweet to be graduating. There were many long, hard nights of studying, she says, but "you get through it."

"You see other students doing great things, and there's support from the faculty. It’s so motivating. You can't stop. You just keep going."

"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."