Labor Summer Research Program students share findings on issues impacting Workers and Learners in LA county just as campuses reopen for fall classes

By Vanessa Codilla | September 17, 2021 

On September 8, students participating in the Labor Summer Research Program (LSRP) shared their findings at the Workers and Learners Summer 2021 Webinar. Students presented research on the experiences of “workers and learners,” or those who both work and attend college in Los Angeles County. 

This year’s summer course picked up where the research of three previous reports released by the UCLA Labor Center: Unseen Costs: The Experiences of Workers and Learners in Los Angeles County, Survey of Workers and Larners in Los Angeles County During COVID-19 and Workers and Learners During and Global Pandemic and Social Uprising left off. 

The online course, led by UCLA Labor Center Research Director Saba Waheed and teaching assistant Michele Wong, was conducted over the span of six weeks. Students participated in all aspects of the research project from prioritizing questions, developing surveys and interview instruments, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting their findings to a public audience. Over the course of the seminar, students conducted a total of 128 surveys and 28 interviews.

“Our approach is to bring as many tools and trainings to the classroom so that students can quickly learn, adapt, and apply the research methods,” said Wong. 

“We hope that students walk out of the class feeling confident and excited about doing community-led research,” said Waheed. “We want to demystify the process and show its power for storytelling and social change.”

While last year’s LSRP cohort focused on the immediate effects of COVID-19 on workers and learners, this year’s researchers examined the experiences of workers and learners as they prepare to return to school and work in the fall. Topics included comparisons of benefits and drawbacks between remote and in-person learning; scheduling, transportation, housing, and financial aid issues; and Covid-19 concerns and vaccination requirements. 

For Rebeca Quintana, a rising fourth year intending to double major in political science and labor studies, the seminar provided an opportunity to conduct research at UCLA for the first time. Quintana, who transferred to UCLA from a community college in 2020, was most interested in learning about challenges students face in finding relevant work or internship experiences. 

“I did work-study in my community college, and I didn’t have the best experience because it wasn’t related to my major,” said Quintana, who was surprised to learn through her research that many other students faced similar situations. “I believe that something has to be done. There should be resources and programs to help students to connect with the jobs that are related to their career.” 

After identifying key issues and findings, Quintana and her peers presented strategies and solutions for universities and workplaces to implement that would better support working students at the Workers and Learners Summer 2021 Webinar

Britt Samaras, an incoming fourth year double major in labor studies and gender studies, examined the mandates and precautions against Covid-19 for students transitioning back to in-person learning. As a single mother working while attending college, remote learning alleviated scheduling and transportation issues she would have otherwise faced during in-person learning. 

I’m a little bit nervous because I’m going to have that commute time to and from school and to figure out my kids’ schedule along with it,” said Samaras. “And if there’s a Covid surge, it’s very concerning, because I have kids who can’t be vaccinated yet, and it would be putting them in danger. ” 

Samaras joined the Workers and Learners researcher team in January, presenting the previous year’s data to faculty and students in the Los Angeles County College District. “I like when I do my presentations, putting sort of a personal spin on it,” says Samaras, “I’ll also include what an interviewee may have said as an example to go along with the data, so it can be tied up in, like, a neat little bow with a personal connection.” 

Samaras plans to continue presenting with the Workers and Learners team this fall. Quintana, on the other hand, inspired by the research project and her labor studies courses, hopes to continue participating in virtual and in-person community actions that advocate for workers. 

“I think this is important because, like me, there are more students who need our voices to be heard,” said Quintana. “And I thought that this project was great for us to really say, ‘Hey, we are here and we are struggling,’ and hopefully that leads to better programs to support every single student.” 

The full Workers and Learners research report will be released in October 2021 on the UCLA Labor Center Website.