Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research and an ILR senior lecturer, is the 2020 winner of Cornell’s George D. Levy Faculty Award.
The honor, made by the Office of Engagement Initiatives, recognizes a faculty member whose collaborative efforts within the community have resulted in exemplary and sustained community-engaged projects. Katherine McComas, vice provost for engagement and land-grant affairs, named Bronfenbrenner this year’s recipient in December.
“Kate Bronfenbrenner 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 engages students directly with workers and their unions, allowing students to connect their ILR educational experiences with the groundwork of unions in fighting for social and economic justice. 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.”
Bronfenbrenner worked for many years as an organizer and union representative with the United Woodcutters Association in Mississippi and with 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 centering around 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, ILR’s Kenneth F. Kahn '69 Dean and the Martin F. Scheinman Professor of Conflict Resolution.
“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. 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.
Over the years, she has collected statistics that show that women of color overwhelmingly are the ones who are fighting for unionization and taking leadership roles, despite popular perceptions that unions are primarily dominated by white men. Her current research will supplement those numbers by hearing the voices of women of color and how unionization has impacted them, as well as what issues they face in the workplace and what the union is doing, or could be doing, to better support them.
Lydia Zheng ’20, who has worked with Bronfenbrenner for three years, said, “Kate has taught me a lot about research, but I would say the main thing I've gained from her are lessons in resilience. 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.”
The George D. Levy Faculty Award, administered by the Office of Engagement Initiatives in support of Engaged Cornell, recognizes a faculty member whose courses, research and other activities best demonstrate collaborative decision-making that incorporates community voice and reciprocity into the design, implementation and evaluation of the project; community capacity building; integrating engaged student learning outcomes into course design and delivery; and planning for sustaining the community partnership.