Applying a Balanced View to HR Practice

Applying a Balanced View to HR Practice
Friday, February 28, 2014

In her new role with Harlem Village Academies, Winnie Kwan MILR '12 wants to build a human resource operation that's sustainable for the future.

As the operations manager for human capital, a position that involves "overseeing everything that's HR-related," she also hopes to be part of something even bigger — developing alternative forms of education that can work. She's in the right place to make that happen. Harlem Village Academies (HVA), a network of charter schools, is known as a national leader in education reform and has gained recognition as one of the highest-performing urban school networks in the country.

"What attracted me to Harlem Village Academies is its commitment to teacher empowerment. It's an organization where teachers can teach in ways that best reflect their strengths and through a variety of methods."

"Infusing an organization with this level of flexibility and with self-driven engagement is a great environment for HR practice," she adds.

Growing up in Astoria, Queens, Kwan was drawn to the liberal arts and felt passionate about education. She was lucky, she says, to have parents who encouraged her to find her own career path and "pursue what resonated with me."

After completing her degree in English at Brown University, she thought she might want to go into the arts and entertainment field. HR was not on her radar.

"Samuel Goldwyn Films brought me on to do marketing and publicity work, but we all wore multiple hats there. I volunteered to spearhead an intern program and realized that I liked talent management."

"I guess you could say I found HR accidentally, but I'm glad I decided on this direction."

That direction also included a decision to get more academic training, which eventually brought her to ILR. That happened a bit by accident, too.

"I was thinking about studying organizational psychology and was looking at other schools. I had a friend at Cornell Law School, and at the time, she had just attended a conference hosted by ILR. She recommended the Master of Industrial and Labor Relations program to me."

Kwan says the MILR program's interdisciplinary coursework taught her to consider a balanced view, "where you are able to look at HR through all these other lenses — organizational behavior, labor relations, economics."

"ILR's approach is smart. You can't be a strong HR professional without knowledge of these other disciplines."

A recipient of the Lawrence Williams Fellowship, Kwan says faculty member Lance Compa influenced her thinking through courses that "embraced a multitude of perspectives to help ensure that we had a background to become responsible HR practitioners."

Associate Professor Chris Collins, director of ILR's Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, also "was a great mentor to me," Kwan says.

"My second year in the MILR program was funded though my research assistantship with CAHRS. I worked on a project exploring the role of HR in managing corporate social responsibility initiatives."

Now, six months after leaving ILR, Kwan says she sees the value of her MILR degree in practice. She refers regularly to case studies shared during classes to inform her work and decision making.

She says that she knew there would be much to do and high expectations, especially since this is the first full-time position at HVA dedicated to human resources.

"I'd like to be able to streamline HR processes and help improve operations. It's important, though, to do this while not changing our core culture."

"Harlem Village Academies is very entrepreneurial. There's so much opportunity to implement new systems and change. It's an exciting time to be here."