School of Labor and Employment Relations alumni connect with current students

Despite restrictions related to the coronavirus, alumni in the School of LER have continued to interact with students in the labor and human resources (LHR) major by speaking in classes and participating in career events via Zoom.
School of Labor and Employment Relations alumni connect with current students

Valerie Bennardo and Michael Wasser

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Despite restrictions related to the coronavirus, alumni in the School of Labor and Employment Relations in the College of the Liberal Arts have continued to interact with students in the labor and human resources (LHR) major by speaking in classes and participating in career events via Zoom. 

“Our school is very fortunate that our many alumni who go on to successful careers in human resources and employment relations are committed to giving back by sharing their professional knowledge and experience with today’s students,” said Paul Clark, director and professor of labor and employment relations.

LHR students follow an incredibly diverse career path, which is represented by two of this semester’s alumni speakers and members of the school’s Alumni Board of Directors -- Valerie Bennardo and Michael Wasser.

Valerie Bennardo is a 2011 graduate from the school’s integrated undergraduate-graduate (IUG) program. She completed a major in labor and employment relations as well as a master’s in human resources and employment relations. Bennardo is currently a human capital manager with Deloitte Consulting.

Even though she is a fairly recent graduate, Bennardo has been a member of the school’s alumni board for several years. “As a student, our alumni and the board in particular were instrumental to my development as an HR professional. The time I spent interacting with them during events and special programs shaped the early part of my career. When I reflected on how important their role was on my college career, I knew it was critical for me to play that same role for other students,” she said.

Michael Wasser is another more recent graduate of the school’s IUG program and a Schreyer Scholar. He served as the student representative to the alumni board during his final year in the IUG program and then formally joined the board in 2011.  

Along with his alumni board duties, Wasser is an adjunct faculty member in the school and the 2020 winner of the Kelley-Willits Award for Excellence in Online Teaching. When he isn't teaching for the University, Wasser serves as assistant to the president and legislative director for the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees (DPE), a coalition of 24 national unions.

“I wanted to be involved with the alumni board because of my own undergraduate experiences,” Wasser said. “I wanted to be able to pay it forward by offering the same type of support I received to current LHR students.”

In a normal year, school alumni board members are invited back to campus for biannual board meetings. This is an opportunity for alumni to conduct business and meet current students. Both Wasser and Bennardo said student interactions are a highlight of being part of the alumni board.

“Knowing how much it meant when alumni took time to help me as a student, it feels good to be able to help current students in similar ways,” Wasser said.

Bennardo added that she also enjoys returning to campus for events as well as formally and informally mentoring students interested in consulting as a career.

“I love coming into the classroom and gathering students’ inputs – not just answering questions, but also through talking about case studies or asking them challenging questions. Even as a recent alumna, it amazes me how much has changed and how much I can learn from them. Debates and intellectual conversations about different topics related to the HR world or even Penn State are really stimulating,” she said.

Wasser explained that the alumni board also provides a way to stay connected with classmates, professors and other alumni – people who become lifelong friends and professional contacts.

Continued involvement with the School of LER, especially through participation on the alumni board, is as beneficial for alumni as it is for students and the school, Wasser said. “You’re able to maintain friendships and grow your professional network. As your career progresses, you’ll have people who you can turn to for advice and connections and will also want to help you because of that shared Penn State LER background,” he said.

Bennardo encourages other young alumni not to underestimate what they can give back to the school. “Having a diversity of perspectives on the board is very valuable. And you can be creative about the ways you can contribute, whether that’s through virtual sessions, monetary donations, mentoring current students, or something else.”

Wasser said in comparison to other University programs, the School of LER is unique in the opportunities it provides to its students and alumni. He explained, “I have friends and Penn State alumni who have no real connection with the departments or schools from which they graduated. They didn’t have the networking and mentoring opportunities that I did.” He also noted young alumni can give their time and talents to talk with current students, share career advice and make the same connections that earlier LER alumni made with them.

Bennardo added, “You hear about Penn State having the greatest alumni network in the world, but once you actually get to experience it, on the giving or receiving end, you can see why we carry that title. It’s something I’m really proud of.”

November 30, 2020