Levin Carn: Learning to Follow; Learning to Lead

Jun 25, 2024

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Levin Carn, CPAESS Deputy Information Technology Manager at the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, shares his perspective on leadership in life and at work.

Levin Carn’s interest in technology was evident as a boy of 10 or 12 when he and his older brother put their heads together to build their own computer at home. He knew early on that information technology would figure in his professional life.

It’s no surprise, then, that Carn was hired in 2023 as the CPAESS Deputy Information Technology (IT) Manager at the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) located at Princeton University. He and his team of ten direct reports are all CPAESS (Cooperative Programs for the Advancement of Earth System Science) employees based at GFDL through a cooperative agreement between the two organizations.

“This is a new position,” says Carn. “CPAESS leadership is trying to engage mid-level managers to supervise more people to reduce the number of staff reporting to Hanne Mauriello or Cindy Bruyère – to take some of the burden off of them.” It also returns responsibility to managers who may know more about the day-to-day work of their individual units.

While this responsibility may be new to Carn, it is not unfamiliar. From his earliest student job at Delaware State University’s IT help desk, Carn gained an understanding of the importance of effective communication in the workplace. The help-desk environment allowed him to learn from the ground up about the kinds of problems users encounter and how best to address them. His experience in the provision of IT services in state government and healthcare settings and now, at GFDL, has taught him that he possesses the knowledge to offer users of technology – students, doctors, nurses, researchers – solutions to computing problems so that they can pursue learning or research in their own areas of expertise.

At GFDL, Carn is a member of the management team that is responsible for providing IT support to GFDL scientists and staff related to research activities, everything from configuring and troubleshooting research hardware and software to following best practices for security of devices and data. Their services ensure that GFDL scientists can conduct research that matters to society such as hurricane trends, weather and ocean prediction, seasonal forecasting and understanding regional and global climate change.

In short, by doing what he does best, Carn makes it possible for researchers to focus on what they do best. “I feel like I’m good at being around other people; managing and helping them problem solve. If we work together, we can make it happen,” says Carn. 

To prepare him to step into a leadership role, Carn is participating in the UCAR Early Career Leadership Program. Through seminars and mentoring, the program aims to help new leaders understand the principles of leadership, engage in effective communication, develop coaching skills and foster networking among participants.

Carn was matched with a mentor as part of the program, an aspect that he appreciates because those conversations have provided him different ways of thinking about situations or solving problems. He says that it is “great to have somebody who will pull you along and show you the ropes.” Learning how to follow is important to learning how to lead, he adds.

“I am not just doing [the program] for this job,” says Carn. “I’m doing it to make myself a better person because a better me is better for everybody else, whether at work or for the football team that I coach or at home.”

In terms of football, Carn practices what he preaches. Football, he says, provides an environment for players to work as a group, to learn interdependence and it’s the trust developed through interdependence that can make a team successful. No one can go it alone. It’s a life lesson that he brings to the workplace, too.

Carn started playing football as a boy, coached by his father, and later, in college where he had other role models. Now, he refers to himself as a second-generation semi-professional enthusiast, leading an adult, recreational football team for the last 14 years in Delaware where he lives. “We have many kids who have come through our program, too,” says Carn. “We do a lot for the youth in our city.” In fact, he is optimistic that one of his mentees will be drafted by a team in the Southeastern Conference next year.

Carn’s sense of giving back to community extends outward, but it also extends inward to family. He and his wife, Tiffany, have opened their doors to children in need, fostering eight children in the last four years.

“It’s never a dull moment in my house or in my life,” says Carn. For Carn, all facets of his life are interconnected – making the best decisions at work or in his life outside of work rests on becoming a better leader at UCAR, he notes.

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