The Labor Studies program is administratively housed within the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) with active collaboration from the UCLA Center for Labor Research & Education (the Labor Center). Classes are taught in large part by Project Directors at the UCLA Labor Center, as well as additional in-house lecturers, visiting faculty, and affiliated faculty in other departments. Administrative support is provided by the Student Affairs Officer (SAO) and Student Programming Coordinator.
Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Director
Professor of Chicano Studies, Labor Studies and Urban Planning
Abel Valenzuela Jr. is Professor of Urban Planning and Chicana/o Studies and Director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Professor Valenzuela is one of the leading national experts on day labor and has published numerous articles and technical reports on the subject. His research interests include precarious labor markets, worker centers, immigrant workers, and Los Angeles. His academic base is urban sociology, planning, and labor studies. In addition to the topic of day labor, he has published numerous articles on immigrant settlement, labor market outcomes, urban poverty and inequality, including co-editing (with Lawrence Bobo, Melvin Oliver, and Jim Johnson) Prismatic Metropolis: Inequality in Los Angeles published by the Russell Sage Foundation in 2000, Immigration and Crime: Race, Ethnicity, and Violence (with Ramiro Martinez Jr.). He has also published in American Behavioral Scientist, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Annual Review of Sociology, New England Journal of Public Policy, Working USA: a Journal of Labor and Society, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, and Regional Studies. Dr. Valenzuela earned his B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and his M.C.P. and Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and currently lives in Venice Beach with his wife and three sons.
Courses: LBR STDS 10, Introduction to Labor and Workplace Studies
Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Associate Director
Labor Studies Faculty Chair
Professor of History and Labor Studies
Frank Tobias (Toby) Higbie is a Professor of History and Labor Studies, and the Chair of the Labor Studies interdepartmental degree program at UCLA. He teaches classes on labor and social movement history, immigration history, and related topics. Higbie’s research explores the culture of industrial life in North America, the role of education in social movements, and the intersection of migration, class, and community. His recent book, “Labor’s Mind: A History of Working Class Intellectual Life,” explores the social world of self-educated working people and relationships between university-trained scholars and working-class intellectuals during the early 20th century. His first book, “Indispensable Outcasts: Hobo Workers and Community in the American Midwest,” chronicled the lives of migrant workers (known as “hoboes”), the ties between communities and seasonal workers, and the culture of radical unionism at the turn of the 20th century. Before coming to UCLA, Higbie worked as a labor educator, a public historian, and (briefly) as a union organizer. He holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Illinois.
Courses: LBR STDS 375, LBR STDS 101 Introduction to Social Movements and Labor in Los Angeles
Gloria describes herself as a citizen of the world. Originally from Colombia, she moved to Los Angeles where she developed an interest in learning about the world. This passion led her to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in International Development Studies at UCLA. She was part of the Transfer Summer Program and participated in the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program where she conducted research on Chinese Immigrant Labor in the construction of Panama’s railroad and canal.
Looking for international experience, Gloria joined UCLA’s Education Abroad Program in Beijing. She also pursued a MBA focused on Strategic Management from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, where she was involved with the Erasmus Student Network (the biggest student organization in Europe) and promoted student development and cultural diversity. Before her current position, she worked as the Global Training Programs Coordinator at Google where she supported career and professional development programs.
As the Student Affairs Officer for the Labor Studies Major and Minor, she is enthusiastic to share her experience with students and guide them in achieving their goals. She believes in a holistic approach to student advising; one that encompasses academic, career, and personal counseling for students. Besides providing academic advising to students, she manages the Labor Studies undergraduate programs, the Labor Summer Research Program, course scheduling, event planning, and student outreach.
As the Academic Programs Manager for the Labor Studies Interdepartmental program, Elizbeth Espinoza develops initiatives and programs to enhance the academic experience for our Labor Studies students, helps prepare them for the workforce, and fosters an environment where students feel supported and connected to each other and to our program of study.
With over 20 years of experience in program development, mentoring, career and academic counseling, and more recently in academic personnel hiring, Elizbeth is passionate about developing initiatives that empower working-class families and workers. A Bruin Alum herself, Elizbeth became increasingly involved in student organizing where she collaborated on developing and implementing high school outreach conferences and mentoring programs. After graduation, Elizbeth returned to the San Joaquin Valley, her second home, to work as a Youth Workforce and Leadership Development Specialist. Enrolling in Stanford University’s Teacher Education Program, Elizbeth specialized in math education and taught middle school and high school students before becoming the first Student Affairs Officer for the UCLA Labor Studies minor program.
During her time as SAO, Student Programming Coordinator at the UCLA Labor Center, and in her current position under Labor Studies, Elizbeth is humbled and honored to contribute to the growth and success of this program leading to the development of the first Labor Studies Major in the University of California system. This journey has led her to currently serve as the Western Regional Representative for UALE, the United Association of Labor Education. A full-time working mom of two exceptionally talented young scholars, in her spare time, Elizbeth also serves as a parent coordinator for Kids for Freedom and Justice, an LA-based kids’ group dedicated to learning and engaging in practices of liberation, freedom and justice toward a better world.
Ueberroth Building 2107
As the IRLE Communications Specialist, Vanessa increases the visibility of the Labor Studies academic program by producing strategic content and managing the website and multiple social and multimedia platforms. Having worked at UCLA Residential Life and UCLA Strategic Communications during her undergraduate years, her experience lies in original content creation, graphic design, and storytelling for student audiences. She aims to create easily-digestible, engaging content and to craft messages that empower and educate.
Vanessa Codilla graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Digital Humanities. While at UCLA, she was involved in various student-led organizations such as VSU Modern, Cultural Affairs Commission, and Samahang Pilipino’s Education and Retention program.
Bryanna (she/her/hers) is the Administrative Assistant Work Study for the Labor Studies IDP. She is a third-year International Development and Labor Studies double major and is the first in her family to attend university. Coming from a family of self-employed and low wage workers, labor is integral to how she has come to understand the immigrant family experience. Bryanna is passionate about BIPOC LGBTQ labor issues, domestic worker organizing, as well as international labor movements that center femininized labor, like that of Bangladeshi textile workers. She has been involved in the Labor Studies Summer Research Program (2019), CHIRLA, Workers and Learners (SRP 199), as well as SLAP’s (Student Labor Advocacy Project) organizing body. She is looking forward to working as a Queer Peer counselor at the LGBTQ Center during the Fall as well as continuing to build community with the Labor Studies team. She also loves Netflix’s POSE, cats and spending time outdoors.
Valeria is a second-year transfer student double majoring in Labor Studies and Chicanx/Central American Studies. Valeria identifies as a first-generation, non-traditional student. Valeria’s interest in labor and the experiences of immigrants within the workforce stems from witnessing exploitative working conditions of undocumented workers in Los Angeles. Valeria is passionate about the intersections of labor, immigration, and the carceral system.
At UCLA she served as Junior Assistant for The USEU (Unión Salvadoreña de Estudiantes Universitarios) Oral History Project, a collective project highlighting the history of the Salvadoran student movement in California. She is also a part of the 2021-2022 Astin Community-Engaged Scholars program and will be exploring the intersections of labor and systems of incarceration through community-engaged research.
In addition, Valeria supports immigrant rights work in Southern California in different capacities. She has served as a federally-appointed Child Advocate for The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, advocating for the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children and supports Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project providing legal orientation and conducting legal intakes with asylum-seekers at the US-Mexico border.
Valeria is excited to support the Labor Studies Program and is committed to expanding and contributing to the student success of the major. As a former student worker at her community college, East Los Angeles College, she outreached to students, planned and administered events on campus to promote a new Associates degree in Law and Public Policy.