College of Liberal Arts | Spring 2021

Meet Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Carlos Paulet

Carlos Paulet

This week we will recognize the five Purdue College of Liberal Arts graduates who were recognized with the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award on Friday, March 22.

Today’s recipient is Carlos Paulet (BA 1999, Political Science), CEO of X-Factor Consulting Group, member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, and VP of technology at Alexcel, the Alliance for Leadership Excellence. Paulet and his wife, Carolina, co-founded the non-profit Catalina Art Foundation, named in honor of their 6-year-old daughter who died from brain cancer in 2015. The foundation manages teams of volunteers in shelters, clinics, and hospitals who bring art and love to children with cancer.

Here is a conversation with THiNK Magazine editor David Ching where Paulet shared his thoughts on studying within the liberal arts at Purdue:

Q: How has majoring in liberal arts made an impact in your life?

A: More than liberal arts, and specifically more than what one majors in, I think what impacts is that liberal arts teaches you to think. I had a professor at Purdue that would say, ‘You’ve got to feel the knowledge.’ He was the reason I enrolled here, actually. I went to one of his classes and it was that good. He would always say he can’t teach you how to think, but he can teach you how to write. And by teaching you how to write, he teaches you how to think. And that in this life, you have to think fast or you don’t last.

I think liberal arts gives you a base, a range of skills that you can go anywhere, research whatever you want to learn how to do, and become good at it. I think it’s the general core training and base that liberal arts offers, and that worldliness, that helps in any direction you might go in life.

Q: Who was that professor?

A: Floyd Hayes III.

Q: Was his course your favorite at Purdue?

A: Yeah, it was definitely one of my favorites. Professor (Michael) Weinstein in political science was another. He passed away recently. It’s interesting because both professors, particularly Weinstein, weren’t very strict about the subject matter for class. Weinstein had a teaching method in which he would say, ‘All right, who’s going to be responsible for bringing us our subject matter?’ It was a political philosophy class. It could be a Tupac Shakur song, and we’d interpret that in class and find the political significance of it.

It was brilliant, but it was completely student-led: ‘You guys propose whatever we’re going to work on and you lead the class.’ And it was fabulous because everyone got really into it and people came prepared. If people were able to work on stuff they were passionate about, they did it well. I think that’s something that I’ve always taken for me. I’ve always agreed that the secret to success is discovering what it is that you don’t like doing and stop doing it. It’s pretty simple.

Q: What was the class that Floyd Hayes III taught?

A: He taught quite a few because I took three or four, but African American politics was one. So it was interesting. I graduated with a major in political science with you could almost say a concentration in African American politics because I took his class so many times and I took some of those associate professors that worked in the same field and just got interested.

Q: What do you think you would have done professionally if you hadn’t selected the path that you followed?

A: Now you’ve got me somewhere between rock star and astronaut. But prior to being on this path, I was working for an airline. In my last corporate job, I was director of operations for Latin America for American Airlines. I was living in Miami managing 12 countries, 500 people, and 80 flights a day. And of course with 80-something flights a day, nothing ever went wrong…I think I’m happy I took this career path, in other words.

Q: How has Purdue changed since you were a student?

A: I like it better, actually. It seems to be a little more sophisticated in a lot of ways – especially the area around campus downtown. It’s been remodeled and facelifted everywhere. It still impacts me as a serious academic environment. That’s one thing I’ve always felt. When I come to Purdue, I feel like I’m in an academic environment, and that’s wonderful.

Q: I noticed the first time I came to campus that students seemed more sophisticated than when I was in college.

A: Every year I bring about 20-something students…there’s a program with about 20-something students – it used to be just from liberal arts – that travel abroad. They spend a month in Peru. There’s a group coming in May. So for about nine or 12 of them, I’ve helped put them in different companies where they’ll work for the month and they’ll have experience and they’ll get real jobs.

The interesting thing is when I’m putting them in these companies like Cisco – real companies where it’s a good experience for work – and I always tell them, ‘These are good students, so my one comment is this has no cost to you. I just want you to sponsor this student, bring them in, and I want you to give them real work. Give them a project with a deadline or something,’ and they’re most impressed by the way it works. It’s a nice program and I think we’re going to keep doing that. I continue to hope that it stands and even bring more students to other countries like Brazil or Colombia or others where I have offices or where I have locations.

Q: What advice would you offer to students from your major today?

A: Party more. No, I would say mind your leadership. That’s probably the most important feature you’re going to develop while at school. Mind your network. Any student sitting next to you all day one day will be worth something to you. And I mean that in a good way – spiritual as well as networking context.

Q: What have you found rewarding about the non-profit that you and your wife started to honor your daughter?

A: It’s therapeutic. Losing a child is the most devastating thing that can happen to any human being in the world. A parent simply shouldn’t have to bury their children. So having gone through that, to be honest with you, if I didn’t have our younger daughter to anchor myself in after that, I could have lost my mind.

This was a fight that we gave: We moved to Philadelphia, we changed homes, we did everything possible to save my daughter until it wasn’t possible, and then went to hospice and rode it through. So I guess bringing smiles to other children and bringing hope in a situation that’s low on that is rewarding in a way of saying thank you to the love my daughter gave me in life.

My wife really is the engine behind Catalina Art, and I think it’s been something very good for her, too.