Andrew Peña Approaches His Season Finale

By Laura Acosta

UTEP News Service

Andrew Peña, Ph.D., is trading his UTEP orange and blue for New Mexico State University’s crimson and white.

After serving as the director of Human Resource Services at The University of Texas at El Paso for nearly 12 years, Peña is leaving UTEP for its neighbor up the road where he will be NMSU’s assistant vice president for HR Services starting Feb. 19.After nearly 12 years of service to UTEP, Andrew Peña’s last day as director of Human Resource Services is Feb. 15. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service. After nearly 12 years of service to UTEP, Andrew Peña’s last day as director of Human Resource Services is Feb. 15. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service.

“To everything, there is a season,” Peña said referencing The Byrds classic tune, Turn, Turn, Turn at his farewell celebration on Feb. 8. “Well, my season has come so I think this is a good time for me to move on.”

Peña joined UTEP in the spring of 2001, at a time when prospective employees still submitted paper applications that were filled out in pencil. Fresh from the private sector, Peña had never worked in state government or higher education. But he had more than 20 years experience in human resources and knew that whether in the private or public sector, people still needed to be hired and trained, employee issues needed to be resolved, and questions about benefits needed to be answered.

The difference was in the employees he served, which now included faculty, and as part of his new job he needed to learn what ‘tenure’ meant.

“I had the support of wonderful bosses and UTEP President Diana Natalicio and I had a lot of peers and colleagues who were willing to be patient in my indoctrination into higher education,” Peña remembers. “And that really paved my way.”

Under Peña’s leadership, the human resources department turned improved its customer relations by elevating the expertise and professionalism of the department’s employees.

“Every director is different … and has a different way of doing things,” said Lucy Ogaz, senior human resources representative, who has worked in the department for 18 years. “Since he came along there's been a lot of changes as far as systems. We had an archaic system to enter benefits. But things have evolved with technology, and everything flows better.”

Paper employment applications became a thing of the past and people started applying for jobs at UTEP through the Human Resource Services website. Forms and services also became available online for employees who were unable to stop by the HR office.

Colleges and departments were assigned their own HR representative. Employee orientations took place in one day instead of two, and separate orientations were created for new faculty in the fall and spring semesters.

In 2006, human resources started the University’s Wellness Program, which now is housed in the College of Health Sciences.

“Our job is to provide information and services to our constituents,” Peña said. “HR should be a friendly place that when you leave with the information you need, you should feel that you were treated with respect and dignity.”

Last year, he assumed the role of Human Capital Management (HCM) Lead and Recruiting Solutions Subject Matter Expert (SME) for PeopleSoft, a commercial software solution powered by Oracle that will replace UTEP’s current human resources and finance system, commonly known as BIS/HRMS.

“People aren't going to remember me five or 10 years from now, but they're going to remember the service that they got from HR,” he said.  

Howard Daudistel, Ph.D., UTEP senior executive vice president, described Peña as a talented individual and a rising star.

“Despite the fact that we hate to see him go, we're also delighted that he's going to enter this new stage in his career and advance professionally and continue to do the kind of work that he loves so much,” Daudistel said.

Peña attributes the success of the department to his human resources team, whose hard work and commitment made his job easier.  

Jesse Manciaz, assistant director, has been on Peña’s team for the last seven years.

“He's one of the better supervisors, better managers and better leaders I've ever had,” said Manciaz, who has stepped into the role of interim director. “He's great at allowing people to grow and do what they need to do their job and I really appreciate that. It's given me an opportunity to learn and interact with (UTEP employees) in a positive way.”

Even though Peña is poised to become an Aggie, he will always be a Miner.

Last fall, he received his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration from UTEP, a goal he set for himself after years of congratulating graduates as they walked down the aisle at the Don Haskins Center.

“This last time, it felt so good to know that I was able to walk down the aisle as one of those graduates,” he said. “It was really fitting how my degree and my career here coincide with my departure. All the stars were aligned.”

As Peña’s final season at UTEP comes to an end on Feb. 15, he is spending quality time with his staff and friends he has made across campus. 

“He's enjoying week two of his farewell tour,” joked Cynthia Vizcaino Villa, vice president for Business Affairs.

In addition to his new job, Peña’s next challenge is to figure out which team he will cheer for when the Miners take on NMSU in football or basketball.

“My allegiance will be with NMSU but my heart and mind will always be with the Miners,” he said.

To remind him of his time at UTEP, Peña, who was a scorer at UTEP basketball games, was given an official UTEP basketball. 

As Daudistel handed the ball to Peña, he told him that this was, “one small gift that might help you to remember us very positively.”