Labor Studies Alumni Q&A: Valerie Serrano on Labor Occupational Safety and Health

Valerie Serrano with Professor Janna Shadduck-Hernández, Professor Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, and Elizabeth Espinosa

By Vanessa Codilla

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Valerie Serrano. I am a bilingual administrative specialist at UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH).  I was an undergraduate student at UCLA, where I majored in sociology and minored in labor studies. After that, I got my master’s in emerging media studies at Boston University.

Can you tell us more about your work at LOSH? 

UCLA LOSH helps promote health and safety in the workplace by offering worker training programs and doing research. Our training programs cover a variety of topics, from managing hazardous materials and handling emergency response through our Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training program, to training school professionals on how to better safely navigate their workplace to prevent injury and illnesses through the School Action for Safety and Health (SASH) Program.

We host undergraduate and graduate students from all over the country, at UCLA for the annual Occupational Health Internship Program (OHIP) three day orientation. The purpose of orientation is to prepare students to conduct work at their specific worksites with unions and worker group. OHIP helps train a new generation of occupational health and safety professionals. We also participate in the annual Young Worker Leadership Academy (YWLA) that is our leading program in youth education. YWLA teaches young workers skills to become leaders and advocates for teen labor rights and workplace health and safety.

We also offer the Worker Occupational Safety and Health Training and Education Program (WOSHTEP) to teach workers to be health and safety leaders in their workplace, especially employees with limited English skills and those in high-risk industries or occupations. One of the main groups we work with in our community are the promotoras, a group of Spanish-speaking immigrant women workers. These promotoras have implemented LOSH outreach and education programs through Mexican and Central American consulates, at day-labor job centers, at community events (i.e., health fairs), on street corners, and more. Part of my job is translating documents, brochures, and social media posts from English to Spanish.

I also manage LOSH’s social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Our audience on social media are students and professionals interested in occupational safety and health. Because of the recent wildfires, we recently put out a fact sheet and video to educate workers on their rights when working outside with poor air quality.

What led you to pursue the labor studies minor? What most impacted you within the minor?

My friend introduced me to the minor, so I took a course with her and it opened me to the whole labor movement. I ended up enjoying the holistic aspect of it – it tied into issues within communities of color, education, workers’ rights, and labor law. Another big impact is being a person of color and learning more about our communities in classes full of other students like me, so I felt like I had a safe space. 

What was your favorite Labor Studies course? 

Back in 2014, I was one of the first students to take part in LSRIP and the Young Workers project, which helped dip my feet into research. I conducted interviews with young workers about their experiences and learned that most work to contribute to their families and futures, not just to buy things for themselves. 

How did the labor studies minor help you when pursuing a career/graduate school?

I actually got my first full-time internship with a union after college through Elizabeth Espinosa [Labor Studies Student Programming Manager/Academic Personnel Coordinator]. She connected me to LA/LB Port Truck Drivers, where I was offered a position as a communications assistant. After that job, I wanted to dip my feet into other forms of communication so I went into marketing and later into fashion. After experiencing those work environments, I realized that I wanted to make a more positive impact in people’s lives, so I went back into working for the labor movement.

What are you most proud of after graduating UCLA?

I got a MA in Emerging Media Studies, which is the study of new and past forms of communication and how they evolve. I studied virtual reality, social media, the theory of interactivity, and more. I’m most proud of being able to come back to UCLA to connect my interests in communications and in labor. Ever since I started working at LOSH, I became more passionate about occupational safety and health so now I even listen to podcasts about it! 

Were you involved in any activities on campus or within the community?

I was involved in Raza Graduation, a student-run ceremony celebrating Chicanx/Latinx graduating students, their families, and communities. I was part of the committee that planned the event for my year and was in charge of coordinating the guest speaker. I got Cherríe Moraga to come to campus! 

Do you have any advice for seniors getting ready to graduate? 

Don’t be too nervous. It’s normal to feel nervous about what the future holds and whether or not you’ll get a job. Don’t give up on your dreams. Even if you’re not 100% sure how to get there now, you’ll figure it out along the way. Have a solid support group. 

What are your next steps or career goals?

I applied for a professional development program here at UCLA. I see myself working at UCLA in the long term. I would love to have a leadership position in the future once I gain more experience, and to do more communications work!