Millennials aren’t entitled, Carrie Arnold says, and they’re not “snowflakes” — and she should know. Each year, about 2,000 freshmen take the program she oversees at UCCS.
“I think they’re a really smart, dedicated, hardworking group of individuals who are just looking to find their place in the world,” she says. “I’m still looking to find mine — I don’t think that’s a one and done, it’s a lifelong journey — and they need that mentorship. And being a mentor is hard; it’s a lot of hard work and people don’t want to do it. But if you invest that time you’re going to get a knockout, awesome employee who’s going to do anything for you and your organization.”
A native of Baltimore, Arnold earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and another in German Language from The University of Maryland, College Park, a master’s in nonprofit management from The College of Notre Dame of Maryland, and a Ph.D. in educational leadership, research and policy from UCCS.
She oversees UCCS’ Gateway Program Seminar, the first-year program that helps freshmen build the skills they’ll need throughout their college career. She’s also an expert in emotional intelligence, which she describes as “the ability to recognize one’s own emotions and those of others, using this information in a meaningful way in order to establish greater emotional and social well being.”
Arnold sat down with the Business Journal to talk about emotional intelligence, leadership and the different world that confronts today’s graduates.
You wear several hats — tell us what you do.
At the University of Colorado I oversee the first-year seminar program, we call it the Gateway Program Seminar. We like metaphors — the gateway into your college career. I’m also an attendant rank assistant professor in the Department of Communication so I teach a lot of their leadership courses, and I also teach in the GPS program. I actually prefer teaching freshmen. I enjoy freshmen — it’s a challenge. Most people don’t like teaching that population, but I love it. And I just recently, in the fall, resigned from overseeing the Honors program because GPS is getting so big. I have my own business called Arnold Educational Services … that’s a separate consulting business that helps organizations either create or develop their own leadership programs that are nested in emotional intelligence; that’s what I did my Ph.D. in. A lot of people think it’s just a fad, but it’s really in every aspect of everything that we do. If people actually had a lot more emotional intelligence, the world might look a lot different than it does right now.
Tell us about GPS.
The Gateway Program Seminar — it used to be called Freshman Seminar — has been around at the university for almost 25 years. It was really taken over by one of my mentors, Dr. Constance Staley, who, as a full professor, gets the learning and behaviors and social aspects of each class that comes in. It’s designed to help freshmen, and we have classes for veteran students, active duty military, nontraditional students. We have over 52 different seminars, 130 faculty members that teach in the program. Each section has a peer mentor, and I also oversee the peer mentor program. … The program is the foundational course of Compass Curriculum, which is our general education curriculum, and it’s tied to very specific outcomes. … The course I teach is called The Unreality of Intelligence. We talk about the multiple intelligences: Are they real or are they not real? We work on fake news, neuroscience, EI, maps — can you believe every map that you read? … We talk about how you have to dig to find the truth. We have a class called DOA: Dead On Arrival, that’s taught by criminal justice professors [where] they teach students about homicide, and cadaver labs, and they take the students to see an autopsy. But at the core of it, using those themes and those topics, we teach students the academic professionalism, the writing, the research skills. It’s really interesting — but there are a lot of moving parts.
How would HR use EI testing?
You can use the EI for a lot of different things. With my assessments, it’s for leadership development and self-awareness. With students it’s strictly self-awareness. I did some research a few years ago and what we found out was that students who were academically at risk, you keep throwing these academic things at them — study skills, study habits — and what we found out was that their EI was fairly low. And when you’re debriefing them they tell you all these things that are happening in their life, and basically all these non-cognitive issues are impacting whether or not they’re going to be academically successful. If you translate that into the workplace, you can use that as a selection tool; you can use it as a succession tool, leader development, self-awareness. It’s a good professional development tool, it’s a great team-building tool — there’s a lot of stuff that you can do with it. Certainly, if [businesses] have employees that aren’t meeting the expectations that are required of them, have someone give them the assessment. Figure out what’s happening. It’s not a diagnostic tool, but when you’re asking questions they start to remember things and they start to say things, and you could have an employee that’s going through a divorce and nobody knows about it. So of course his first priority isn’t going to be work — and those businesses that think it should are not taking a page out of Simon Sinek’s playbook ‘Leaders Eat Last,’ which is going to be the new generation of leadership. And there’s not a lot of that here.
When you say there’s not a lot of that here, what do you think needs to change?
I’ve worked for two of the best Baby Boomers in the world — the late Michael Hackman [former professor in the Department of Communication, director of the UCCS honors program and adviser for leadership studies] and currently Dr. Staley, who’s still a mentor of mine. But they’re an anomaly. When I look around here, when I look around the world, if you think of all the Fortune 500 companies, look at Congress … if you look at the age range in some of our largest organizations, the top executives are Boomers. The difference is, when they were coming up through their leadership ranks, it was a very command-and-control culture — which works around here because the military is a very command-and-control culture. But now you’re working with the next generation and multiple generations, there are multiple generations in the workforce now… and I’m so sick and tired of hearing Millennials called “snowflakes.” I’m tired of hearing them being called a bunch of different names. I’m Gen X, and I think we are the ones bridging the gap between Boomers, Millennials and Zs, because right now Generation Z is in college with us. … You’ve got to think outside the box. Things that we did 20 years ago are not working. They’re not going to work. Technology is changing so fast and things change on a daily basis, and … you come up in a culture where it’s about money, numbers, money, numbers, command, ‘You do what I tell you to do.’ I teach leadership — that’s not leadership. Leadership is caring for the people and developing the people that you’re in charge of. You’re responsible for them and their well-being, and if you take care of them, they’re going to take care of you. I think, around here, it’s changing — but it’s very slow to change.
By working with students on EI are you laying the groundwork for a different type of leadership?
I would hope so. … Students today, young people today, what they have to deal with is not what you and I dealt with 20 years ago. It’s so different.
What are some of those things?
The rising cost of education; the labor market changing so rapidly that degrees don’t necessarily match what an organization is looking for; growing up after 9/11; growing up with the 2008 recession; all the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. … And most of our students work 20 to 40 hours a week. They’re trying to put themselves through school full-time and work full-time, and I didn’t have to deal with that. I could totally concentrate on school — that was my job except for the summers. That is not the case anymore.
What else is important to know about what you do?
Don’t discount Millennials and their ideas just because they’re different than yours and you have the wisdom to know what works and doesn’t work. If they try something again that’s similar to what you’ve tried, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to work this time. We have to continually try and fail and try and fail, in order for innovation to truly happen. I think that’s where people are getting stuck — ‘Well I know, because I’ve done this’ — that doesn’t work in today’s world; that doesn’t fly. Because if we don’t try new things we are all going to just drown in our own mess. For me, it’s important for people to understand EI because I truly do believe that it can and does make a difference with individuals. I’m not looking to change the world — I’m looking to change myself and to change one individual at a time, and that will proliferate on its own. And the easiest and the best way to do that is with students and freshmen.