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Cathy Barnes changes lives at IU Kokomo

November 21, 2013
KOKOMO, Ind. — Advisor. Mentor. Friend. Teacher. Leader.

IMG_7114Cathy Barnes (R) speaks with student, Ashlee Douglass (L).

Catherine Barnes earns all of those titles, in her career at Indiana University Kokomo. However, as she prepares to retire this December, she knows which word she wants to be used when people remember her.


"I am a servant leader," Barnes said. "When I came to this institution, it was to serve the population of this community, students, faculty, staff, and the people of Kokomo. I come from a long line of servants."

For 17 years, Barnes has been an integral part of the campus community, first leading diversity programs, and then becoming a trailblazer in academic advising. She believes in the power of higher education to change lives, and works tirelessly to make sure IU Kokomo students achieve their dreams.

She has been a devoted champion of students during her career, according to Interim Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke.

"Whenever I am out in the community, parents and students stop me and thank me for Cathy Barnes," Sciame-Giesecke said. "They talk about how supportive she is of each and every student she serves. Her energy and enthusiasm for IU Kokomo and our students is contagious. We will miss her and wish her the best in her retirement."

A Kokomo native, Barnes married and moved to Los Angeles, where she and her husband owned and operated four pharmacies after graduating from Purdue. The family returned to Kokomo when her father passed away, "to be a blessing to the grandparents" by bringing their four young children to live closer.

Shortly after the move, Barnes struck up a conversation with Herbert Miller, an IU Kokomo faculty member, at the Carver Community Center's summer celebration. He urged her to apply for an open job on campus as director of campus climate.

"That was my point of entry at IU Kokomo," she said. She dealt with equity and diversity issues, and provided programming on diversity.

Later, Sciame-Giesecke, who was dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the time, asked her to be the academic advisor for the school. Barnes found her calling in that job.

"Advising is teaching," she said. "All my life I have taught. Behind the prescription counter, I taught patients how to use their medicines effectively, and how to eat to get the most from their medicines. As an advisor, I teach students how to change their behaviors and study skills, so they can be successful. Advisors help them understand their path, to understand IU Kokomo, and what is necessary for them to get a degree."

Her proudest accomplishment at IU Kokomo is developing the Office of Student Success and Advising.

"We have an organized advising team, whose sole purpose is to teach students how to navigate IU, and if they choose to complete a degree in four years, we can assist them in that process," she said. "We provide an advising scaffolding. They come to us as new students, and we have to support them a lot. As they get more experienced and comfortable, we can gradually let go of that support. Our team is committed to student success."

Barnes said the campus is a completely different place than it was when she started.

"This is a cool place to be," she said. "It's a good-looking campus. It's a fun campus. There are sports. There have always been student activities, but they've changed. We have all these new, wonderful degree programs. This campus has changed, and changed for the better."

She is especially excited about a private developer offering student housing across Washington Street, and looks forward to the day the campus will have its own residence halls.

"All of these things are making IU Kokomo a first choice college," she said. "When I started, we were a second or third choice. More students want to be here, not just for a semester or two to get a taste of college before going somewhere else, but because they want to get an IU degree in Kokomo."

Although she will not be on campus after January 1, Barnes will continue to help students through the creation of the Barnes Family Scholarship, to be given annually to an IU Kokomo student. She, her husband, and their four adult children will endow the scholarship.

"The Barnes family knows what a scholarship means to the ease of your completion, and how much more fun college can be when you don't have to worry about the debt and the expense," she said. "There's something special about doing something for an institution that has been so good to you. To be able to leave this campus with some money specifically for students, it's a plus for me."

She knows from personal experience how meaningful a scholarship is, having received one for winning a science fair when she was a junior at Kokomo High School. She used it to earn a degree in pharmacology and pharmacy science at Purdue University.

Later, each of her four children earned scholarships to pay for their college educations. Her youngest, Aaron, received a full scholarship to IU Bloomington.

"That changed our family life, and meant my husband could retire early, because we weren't paying to send another child to college," she said. "My scholarship helped me earn my degree, which gave me the opportunity to make money, and to live in Los Angeles, and own and run a business. I would never have had those opportunities without my degree."

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 09/09/2014