Alumni Spotlight: Elevating the Role of the HR Professional
Gabe Contreras amplified
his position at UCI by
taking an innovative
Along with the rest of the business world, the role of the
Human Resources professional is rapidly evolving, whether
within the worlds of finance, healthcare or academia. No
matter how proficient or experienced, HR pros need to
stay up to speed with this changing landscape.
That's why the Division of Continuing Education launched
an in-house program for UCI HR employees – the Human
Resources Business Partner Specialized Studies – designed
to elevate and expand their roles within the university.
Why not use world-class university resources to educate
university employees right on campus? The program was
a revelation for Gabriel Contreras, an experienced HR
professional who worked at UC Berkeley before coming
to Irvine five years ago.
“The HRBP program offers a great variety of content as it
relates to not only HR, but business in general. I especially
loved the content relating to data and metrics,” said
Contreras, now an HR Business Partner within the UCI
Health Sciences department. “I love working with numbers
and that was a big part of the curriculum.”
The good news is that you don't have to be a UCI employee
to take this innovative program. It's now offered in a new online format available to the public. The HRBP Specialized
Studies – which can be completed in as few as nine months –
is designed to amplify an HR employee's role within their
organization and help them stay current with best practices.
Addressing the expanding role of today's HR professional, the
program provides the tools to assume more of a leadership
role, while expertly managing the HR department. The
courses are taught by top professionals from several diverse
industries, covering areas such as metrics and analytics,
organizational design and development, and more.
Contreras found time to talk about his experience during
a busy late-summer schedule. The Anaheim resident gave
insight on the program, why he chose to take it and how
it has benefited his role at UCI.
You've been working within the UC system for several
years. What were you doing before getting into Human
I started out working as a Recruiter, then later as an HR
Generalist for UC Irvine Medical Center. One of the key
things I took away from the Human Resources Business
Partner program is that it helped expand my
proficiency beyond just the ‘UC way,’ and
become more aware of HR themes and best
practices as an industry overall.
Is that what attracted you to the HRBP
Yes, what mainly attracted me was that
we were going to gain insights from
experts from other organizations, big
names like Blizzard, Taco Bell, and
more, a variety of industries. And the
instructors all have such a wide array
of experience, I knew they could add
to my HR knowledge, since all of my
experience has been within the UC
How has the role of HR changed over the years?
And how does the program address this?
I feel the role of HR is changing because we are now being
viewed as a true business partner to any organization, rather
than a place you need to go to when you have your typical
HR issue – discipline, termination, and so on. We are viewed
as an active player, and the program addresses this by
helping our goals align to our strategy, how HR can move
the business or organization forward. It places HR at the
front end of strategy rather than a reactionary department
to the organization.
What sort of approach does the program take?
It offers a great variety of content, not only as it relates to
Human Resources but also business strategies in general.
And I especially loved the content relating to mining data
and interpreting metrics. I'm the type that loves to work with
numbers and it was interesting to see how that approach is
being used pretty much everywhere now, not just in certain
businesses or industries.
Talk a bit about the overall experience.
Was it experiential and hands-on?
Well, there was quite a bit of group work
involved, which often had us looking at our
own operations or roles and how we can
apply what we're learning to our current
jobs. The capstone project at the end was
especially enlightening; we had to come up with
an idea that we could use in our department
using whatever theme or topic we had learned
through the course.
How did the program elevate your
proficiency as an HR professional?
It elevated my proficiency overall and it
helped me see the big picture and how my role fit into that. The program also made me think more strategically in my approach to certain tasks and projects. It really helped me break down some barriers I had when it came to how I approached my day-to-day role.
How would you characterize the quality of instructors?
They’re fabulous. The instructors have such a wide breadth of experience and truly are an open book when it comes to one-on-one interaction and answering questions. They offered great insights and knowledge.
Would you recommend the program to HR professionals?
Absolutely. I would certainly recommend the program to anyone in the HR field.
Let’s switch gears for a minute. What about your life outside UCI?
What do you like to do in your downtime? My wife and I really enjoy the outdoors, tent camping in particular. We’ve visited five national parks: Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Death Valley. Right now, we’re expecting our first child in November and we couldn’t be more excited.