Conference Explores Ethnographies of Work Framework to Improve Education Equity and Social Mobility



July 2, 2018 | Academics, Events

Guttman faculty and staff lead a presentation about the Ethnographies of Work course.

Professors Mary Gatta and Alia Tyner-Mullings and Assistant Dean for Student Support Danielle Insalaco-Egan lead a morning presentation about Guttman’s Ethnographies of Work course.

On Tuesday, June 26, with the generous support of HERE to HERE, a Bronx-based organization that links employers, educators, and community partners to build employment opportunities among young New Yorkers, Guttman Community College hosted over 75 individuals from high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and national organizations throughout the country for the Ethnographies of Work (EOW)–Social Mobility and Equity Convening. Guttman, Here to Here, and Jobs for the Future shared the Ethnographies of Work course, along with engaging in larger discussions of social equity and the importance of “social capital,” the formal and informal networks that enable greater mobility for job-seekers.

Ethnographies of Work at Guttman is distinguished by its nontraditional approach to learning about careers.  This First-Year Experience course — framed within the sociology/anthropology of work and the professions and organized around students’ structured observation of workplaces — is based on the idea that students who understand the meaning of work in human lives and have stronger knowledge of professional work experience will have greater agency in entering the labor market. By moving workplace learning from the margins to the center of the academic curriculum, the course provides students with the opportunity to research and visit different workplaces throughout New York City, increasing their career awareness and their critical analysis of work.  Further, students learn about the challenges that exist in workplaces, along with understanding workplace culture, norms and relations.  Armed with that knowledge, students will be better prepared to enter the job market.

In addition to its focus on applied learning in partnership with employers, Ethnographies of Work addresses career readiness and provides foundational skills. The course includes a co-requisite weekly group advising session, “Learning about Being a Successful Student” (LaBSS), facilitated by Guttman’s first-year advisors, known as Student Success Advocates. In LaBSS sessions students develop and refine their identity as a member of the workforce by creating elevator pitches, practicing networking skills, and building a resume.

The Convening was framed by key thought leaders on issues of education, work and social mobility.  Dr.  Gregory Seaton, Associate Director, Pathways to Prosperity Network and Dr. Nancy Hoffman, Senior Advisor & Co-founder, Pathways to Prosperity Network, Jobs for the Future, shared data on disparate college graduation rates and labor market rewards across race and income; and how the idea of social capital can impact those experiences.

EOW COnvening attendees met in small groups.

Attendees met in small groups in the afternoon to create strategic plans on how to bring the EOW model to their institutions.

“Research confirms that low income young people need more than a college degree to land a good job.  Guttman Community College is unique among its peer institutions in teaching students about the importance of social networks and connecting them with helpful adults outside of their families and communities.  In fact, Ethnographies of Work, a signature course, contextualizes work as critical human endeavor. It teaches students through intellectually engaging readings, the practice of ethnographic methods, and experiences outside of the class room to understand labor markets, career trajectories both theoretically and in practice.  The people who convened at Guttman on June 26 share the excitement that this new approach to career preparation and choice opens to students.  Taking career interests from a marginal advising office to the center of the curriculum is one important step to addressing the pernicious level of income immobility infecting the United States today,” commented Dr. Nancy Hoffman, Senior Advisor & Co-founder, Pathways to Prosperity Network, Jobs for the Future.

The day also included a panel entitled “Why an Ethnographies of Work, Social Capital, and Equity Framework?” with Angie Kamath, CUNY’s University Dean for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, Randy Moore, Vice President, Post-secondary Partnerships & Innovation, HERE to HERE,  Michael Collins, Vice President, Jobs for the Future, and Ralph Wolff, President and Founder, The Quality Assurance Commons.

By focusing on the innovative EOW model, the Convening made the case for creating curriculum and experiences that intentionally build awareness of the value of social capital and greater momentum toward social mobility for new majority students.

“Ethnographies of work is a really effective way to get students out into the work-field in order for them to gain knowledge about a career they want to pursue. Being able to have the opportunity to force myself into these workplaces really opened my eyes and now I am pursuing an associate degree in IT. EOW also helped me think about the importance of meeting people and building relationships since we need these connections to make it easier to get a job in the long run,” explained Edwin Santana, IT Major at Guttman Community College.

Coming out of the day’s events, Guttman intends to create a Center for Social Mobility and Equity to act as a hub for supporting EOW-like experiences at partner institutions and organizations, as well as driving research that helps us further understand how to increase social mobility for students of color, low-income students, and first-generation students across the country.