Valerie Braman is a Lecturer in Labor and Employment Relations, and a Labor Education Coordinator with the LABOR School at Penn State. She works with local unions, higher education institutions, and community organizations to develop and deliver labor education classes and programs. Professor Braman holds a Master of Science in educational administration from Gwynedd Mercy University and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Literatures in English from Brown University. She is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Why did you decide to focus on outreach?
“My professional experiences put me on a pretty unique path. I was a high school teacher and teacher coach and leader in K-12 education in the Philadelphia School District, and a union member and eventually an elected leader in my own union. After that, I became a national trainer for the AFT, and eventually a union staffer.
“I’ve seen firsthand the ways in which education and the important work of supporting a more democratic society can go together. For unions to be effective as a voice for working people, leaders and members need to be supported and knowledgeable about the world around them and the challenges facing us. This knowledge is empowering- it’s not just at work; it impacts a person’s family and whole community. My work in the School of LER and with the LABOR School has really felt like a natural progression. I feel privileged to be able to have a role where I can blend teaching and facilitation along with making a contribution to stronger unions and ultimately, a stronger and engaged citizenry in Pennsylvania.”
How does society, businesses, or communities benefit from your work?
“My fundamental belief is that every single worker can benefit from a union – the structures, the ability to have a voice, and advancing workers’ rights are all such necessary things for individuals and for organizations. I’ve never seen any workplace become less effective or successful after unionization and collective bargaining – quite the contrary!
“Through doing this work, reading the research, and observing current events, it’s become even more clear that unions are beneficial. Certainly, the pandemic has made it obvious that there’s a need to support workers across all industries and brought this into focus for more people.”
What are some of the current projects the LABOR School is working on?
“We’ve done a lot of work over the past year reimagining what teaching, learning, and labor activism look like in a virtual space. We’ve adapted our Labor Activist Academy programs to an online format with great success. It’s given so much access to people who might not have been able to travel to the in-person programs. I think we’re going to be looking at finding ways to integrate virtual options along with a return to more in-person programming moving forward.
“We’re also starting to develop and dig into focused racial justice training and programming for the labor community throughout Pennsylvania. This includes a union staff training cohort to support union staffers in their work and provide a peer network. Finally, we have a new partnership with a large building trade council in Philadelphia. We’re working with them to seamlessly have their members complete World Campus degrees.”
You were recently elected to the Penn State Faculty Senate – what does that mean and what are you most looking forward to?
“The University Faculty Senate is the representative body of Penn State’s faculty with legislative authority on all matters affecting the educational interests of the University. It’s representative of different campuses and colleges.
“I seek out opportunities for shared governance and decision making. I think that someone who does primarily outreach work offers a perspective and voice that is sometimes missing but is needed in conversations about policy and decision making. I see working with the Faculty Senate as an opportunity to add that perspective and hopefully advocate for and represent my colleagues and students.”
What are some of your hobbies outside of work?
“I feel very strongly about supporting the public school system and I’m involved in several community organizations in Philadelphia. I love to bake, I practice yoga faithfully, and I love to be outside – in or near a body of water if possible!”
Find Professor Braman’s contact information here.
June 25, 2021