Ellie Cain’s story is about a commitment to people and serving as someone whom others can come to for help. It’s just who she is.
Born and raised in Earlysville, VA, outside of Charlottesville, Cain faced a profound loss at the age of eight, when her mother passed due to breast cancer. The heartbreaking experience had consequences that would build her resolve and color her view of the world and how much it means to make a positive difference in others’ lives: “Her death meant that I had to learn responsibility much younger than expected, self-awareness of the overwhelming emotions and how to best navigate them, and perseverance with the support of loved friends and family.”
She carries that outlook to all aspects of her life and believes that it’s important to take the time to appreciate others, as well as the simple pleasures. “I make it a daily task for myself to try to provide a bright spot in an individual’s day because you may never know what’s going on in their personal lives,” she says. “I want to be someone who can bring a smile to a face and make a small, but positive and meaningful impact.”
Given that outlook and her giving nature, it should come as no surprise, then, that she decided to forge a career in human resources, where she could assist others on a daily basis.
How to Be a Better Leader
After graduating from the University with a degree in Sociology from the College and a minor in Leadership from McIntire, Cain settled in Raleigh, NC. Having been a Human Resources Partner with Amazon for a year, she joined Red Ventures in Charlotte, NC, as a Human Resources Generalist getting a fresh start in a new city in which to write the next chapter of her professional life in HR.
In addition to experiences she’s amassed since joining the tech giant, she’ll face her future armed with the skills she traces back to UVA.
“As a Sociology major, I was primarily learning how to understand the overall structures, functions, and developments of society, while also studying dynamics of human relationships and interactions,” she explains.
But it was her innate desire to help others succeed that drove her to HR—and to the Leadership Minor.
“I was skilled in communication and emotional intelligence, had always assumed a leadership role in teams, and knew I wanted to pursue something catered to interaction and people in a business capacity,” Cain says, noting that she realized she wanted a career in HR management and was looking for educational experiences to support that goal. Just then, during her second year at UVA, the rebooted Leadership Minor was announced.
“I immediately applied, as that was exactly what I was looking for—a specialization that focused on people orientation in a business setting! I was extremely excited, as this would be an opportunity for me to grow and learn how to be a better leader and listener and drive group success within that formal career environment; this minor did not disappoint,” she insists.
While the Leadership Minor enriched her studies by teaching her about best communication practices, leadership styles, and career development dynamics, she was able to connect those skills to her intended career path and also developed valuable perspectives that extended far beyond the boundaries of a traditional business education.
Cain’s journey through the Leadership Minor was not without its challenges. Growing up, she had always been an assertive and proactive person, an athlete who often took charge in team settings. She came to understand that true leadership requires more: being an active listener, for starters. “The majority of the other students were also used to taking point and leading the pack. Since most of the class curriculum revolved around groupwork, I quickly learned that jumping to take charge wasn’t always the best course of action for the group’s best interest,” she says. “Being an effective leader means having the ability to take a step back and truly listen to the ideas and opinions of others. Listening actually made me a better leader.”
A Lasting Impression
The many practical approaches that Cain gained from her Leadership courses continue to have a significant impact on both her professional and personal life.
“One of the reasons I find the Leadership Minor to be so invaluable is that most of the lessons learned can easily be applied to your everyday world,” she says.
Operating within the HR field, Cain says that she is constantly engaged with the management and development of people. As such, skills including emotional intelligence to accurately contextualize situations, communication styles based on situations and audiences, and adaptability to listen to and accommodate those she is responsible for have allowed her and those she works with to grow and succeed.
Hesitant to choose a favorite course, Cain says she deeply enjoyed every class she took at McIntire within the Leadership Minor, crediting “amazing” professors like Jeffery Lovelace, Rob Patterson, Paul Seaborn, and Jeff Leopold with making her classes “some of the best throughout my entire college curriculum.” She notes that Lovelace’s Leadership introductory course convinced her to pursue the minor and Patterson’s Public Speaking course elective was an interactive, fun, and empowering experience that pushed her out of her comfort zone.
While Cain’s story is a testament to the transformative power of education and personal growth, she says that the knowledge she gleaned from the Leadership Minor is available to any student who wants to “be a better friend, a better teammate, a better employee, and or an overall better individual—even if you don’t have any interest in business or management or you don’t view yourself as a leader.”
She is equally effusive about the faculty. “The professors you meet over the span of this minor and the potential relationships you get to build with them are invaluable,” Cain says. “To this day, they are some of the most genuine professors I’ve had in all my years of schooling because of how much they care for each and every one of their students outside of the classroom and even after graduation. I truly would not have had as much fun or found as much success as I did at UVA if I had not joined this minor.”
Unprompted, she has a message for students considering their next academic choices: “Try Professor Lovelace’s entry-level course during your second year; you won’t regret it!”