From Staff Reports
---- — Adviser. Mentor. Friend. Teacher. Leader.
Catherine Barnes earned all of those titles in her career at Indiana University Kokomo. 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 in a press release. “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 to make sure IU Kokomo students achieve their dreams.
Barnes has been a devoted champion of students during her career, according to IUK 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,” Barnes 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 adviser 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 adviser, I teach students how to change their behaviors and study skills so they can be successful. Advisers 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,” Barnes 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 has seen many positive changes in her time at IUK, and she is especially excited about a private developer offering student housing across Washington Street.
“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 Jan. 1, Barnes will continue to help students through the creation of the Barnes Family Scholarship, which will be given annually to an IU Kokomo student. Barnes, her husband and their four adult children will endow the scholarship.
“The Barnes family knows what a scholarship means to the ease of your (degree) 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.”