Arina Bekchyan_Alumni Highlights

Arina Bekchyan (MBA ’98): More Than 20 Years at the Forefront of AUA Workforce Recruitment

7 min read

Arina Bekchyan received her Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics (CBE) at the American University of Armenia (AUA). After graduating with excellence from AUA, she was offered the position of personnel coordinator at her alma mater. Arina is the director of the AUA Office of Human Resources (HR), and for the past 22 years, she has been leading the HR team in recruitment and HR management, developing hiring strategies to address the university’s growing needs. She posits that studying at AUA changed the course of her life and equipped her with first-rate functional skills and knowledge to succeed in her career. As the University continues to develop, Bekchyan has been and remains an essential member of the AUA community.

Applying to AUA in the 1990s

Getting accepted to AUA was an unexpected turning point in my life. One day, my mother was watching a TV interview with Dr. Mihran Agbabian, a founding member and first president of the University, and, impressed by what she heard, encouraged me to apply to AUA for graduate studies. My university degree was in radio engineering, but I had made a great effort to learn English on my own as I loved it so much. My mother reassured me that my knowledge of English was at a level of competence good for getting accepted and insisted that I apply. Eventually, I did so and was pleasantly surprised at the score I achieved in the English language proficiency test. 

Back then, AUA offered a nine-month Intensive English Program (IEP) for those who needed to improve their language skills. After successfully completing that program, applicants took the GRE or GMAT for acceptance into any of the University’s graduate programs. I was very excited to have scored high in the English exam, which granted me acceptance to the IEP. Every day was another interesting experience forming friendships with students eyeing different AUA programs, learning new perspectives, and studying diligently to get final acceptance to the University. 

Consequently, I applied and was admitted to the MBA program after completing IEP. Considering the needs of the country in those years, a degree in economics was one of the most relevant and in-demand fields, which led me to divert from my initial specialization. Besides, I had a background in mathematics, which I thought would be helpful in pursuing an MBA. 

Studying at AUA: New Perspectives, Knowledge, and Skills

I spent memorable years as a student at AUA. Every day here was interesting in its own way, forming the most interesting years of my life. Though our country was going through hardships, AUA provided us with the necessary conditions and facilities to obtain a quality education. I maintained a high GPA every semester, which awarded me a full scholarship throughout my studies. 

Aside from earning a graduate degree, AUA changed my worldview and perspectives. Many of our professors in IEP and MBA came from abroad, and I remember one of them saying that if you truly want to study and change something in your life, AUA will open new life opportunities for you. I was later convinced how true those words were. AUA gives you a premise, a structure to think about and understand the problem. It teaches you to embrace a situation and make decisions quickly in a fast-paced environment. When studying at AUA, you are under the pressure of deadlines all the time, and it makes you develop a deadline-oriented mindset while also striving to maintain the quality of your work. 

I gained management skills from MBA that have served as useful assets in my career. I took several management courses and learned how to apply the concepts in organizational settings. It was a totally new field for me, and I still keep and review the hard copies of the books we were assigned to read. I also find the knowledge of financial management from the program very useful in my current job.

At AUA, we learned a lot from our coursemates as well. Working in groups imparted to me the importance of teamwork. Each of us in a group had stronger skills and knowledge in different areas, and we used these for the benefit of the group. I appreciated the importance of individual input in teamwork, since at that time and now, I use a similar model with my team at the HR Office. My approach as a leader is to establish and maintain a strong team spirit and atmosphere throughout the office. I know the strong points of everyone in the team, and I encourage them to contribute what they do best in order for us to collectively generate better results. 

Along with teamwork, self-reliance is one of the most important values AUA has instilled in me. You start to appreciate yourself, discover what you are capable of, and become confident in your abilities while studying here. You start to rely on yourself significantly to achieve your goals.

From Student to Alumna and Staff Member

Receiving an offer from AUA to become the personnel coordinator for the University’s HR Office was another unexpected but landmark event in my life. When I first received the call from AUA offering me the job, I did not fully realize how much that one call would change my life. When I joined the University as a staff member, I was the only one in the department because the number of faculty and staff was much fewer than it is now. At that time, it was possible for me to manage AUA personnel on my own because the workload was significantly less compared to what we have now. Now, it would be impossible to do all the hiring and personnel management alone, considering the scale of the development of our institution over the past twenty years. 

The transition from alumna to staff member was a bit difficult. As a student, you do not frequently interact with University staff. So, in a way, I didn’t even imagine what it would be like to be one among them, let alone in such a large team. Nevertheless, I accepted the offer and, in 2001, became the personnel coordinator for AUA. At that time, I could not imagine that I would spend the next 22 years of my life managing the University’s HR department. I do not think I could give you a simple answer if you asked me how I ended up staying at AUA throughout these years. Applying for other positions did not even cross my mind. I guess fate decided this course for me, or AUA has the power of retention.

Managing AUA’s HR department: Establishing Principles and Overcoming Challenges 

I strongly believe in equity and manage the operation of my department accordingly. Interacting and communicating with everyone has been central to my job throughout these years. Of course, sometimes one runs into conflicts with others. In this recent period, my greatest challenge has been managing the cross-cultural differences of our growing faculty from abroad. They come from a variety of backgrounds, and sometimes, it is challenging to overcome the cultural barriers and legal differences in our respective countries during the process of hiring negotiations. But these situations have instilled in me two qualities that are very important in our profession: flexibility and open-mindedness. You need to be open-minded to embrace cultural differences and be flexible to adapt accordingly for smoother communication across the board. When reflecting on those situations, I realize that human interactions are a priority. Communication, both written and verbal, is a skill that I have developed throughout my career. If effective and respectful communication is maintained among people, then all conflicts can be resolved. 

One of the main functions of our HR Office is to conduct regular staff training. Besides organizing training ourselves, we also participate in other training to ensure our knowledge and skills are kept up to date and we stay in tune with the evolving needs and practices in our field. Through the years, the formats and topics of these training sessions have changed as well. If ten years ago, the emphasis was on technical knowledge, nowadays, training places greater focus on improving the soft skills of our staff members. I think effective communication and soft skills are valuable in all types of professions.

Recently, we conducted an interesting program called PEOPLE within the framework of the Trans-European Mobility for University Studies (TEMPUS) Programme. It featured an international consortium with partners from universities in Sweden, Spain, and Portugal. It generated a highly effective exchange of experiences, some of which we have adopted into our own HR practices, integrating successful international experiences as much as possible.

Now, considering that our team has grown, my aim is to keep our members in the loop of new trends in the sphere. HR directions have evolved significantly in recent years, and we try to keep pace with the field by participating in relevant international and local conferences as much as possible. I work on fitting this into our daily routine so that besides completing our priority tasks, we also have more time for identifying and scrutinizing emerging trends in HR.

Witnessing the Development of the University

2013 was a turning point for the development of the University and, as we were preparing to launch the undergraduate program, the management of faculty contracts was transitioned from the U.S. office to our office in Armenia. This dramatically increased the workload and was another challenge for our office to overcome. 

I think that we are now facing another turning point in the development of the University. AUA is once again undergoing major changes as we prepare to usher in a significant growth in student enrollment, faculty size, and facilities in the upcoming years. We are now in the stage of preparing for this new milestone. Within the scope of our department, we are working to strengthen our faculty hiring efforts and, in that regard, I am glad to say that we have had significant successes in recent years. We continue to put greater effort into attracting more foreign faculty congruent with the strategic development goals of the University. 

It has been a difficult time for our country, and I think the education that AUA offers is extremely important and valuable in such times. The University has made great contributions to the development of Armenia, particularly from the standpoint of the impact our alumni have in that process. I believe AUA’s role is significant in how its graduates bring about change in our country through various initiatives in the public and private spheres. AUA was established during challenging times for our country, and now, more than ever, we should realize and appreciate the importance and role of the education it offers our younger generation. Within the scope of our department, we are always ready to help the institution function more efficiently through our hiring efforts, personnel management, and effective communication.

AUA’s Role in Arina’s Life

Looking back now, if I had to do it all over again, I would definitely choose to study at AUA, and I would also want to work here. AUA has been a major part of my life, opening new horizons for me and changing the course of my life. Especially during my student days at AUA, the education I received here offered a fresh perspective and innovative approach to knowledge transfer. And now, working here has given me a lot of interesting opportunities and created meaningful networks. I have met fascinating people and developed wonderful friendships.