Looking back before moving on

Beth Barnes, director of UK’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications, poses for a portrait at the Enoch Grehan Journalism Building on Monday, April 13, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Adam Pennavaria

By Claire Johnson

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Beth Barnes’ life has involved travel at nearly every stage. With a father in the Air Force, Barnes tasted wanderlust at a young age and hasn’t stopped, adding students to her trips across the world.

But there is one place where Barnes has stayed for longer than expected. She has been the Director of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications since 2003.

The long stay is coming to an end, as Barnes’ last day on June 30 approaches.

“I’ve been in this job for 12 years, and I think both the school and I are ready for a change,” she said. “I think it’s easy to get into a rut and to start to take things for granted—and that’s never good.”

If there is a product of her time in the office the Journalism school isn’t ready to let go, it is the growing number of students who have studied abroad during Barnes’ time as director.

With her noise-cancelling headphones in and No-Jet-Lag herbal product to adjust to time changes, Barnes is an experienced globetrotter.

Barnes said she went to London, England, for her first Education Abroad course with UK. She was already familiar with the city and knew it was a great location for students interested in advertising and public relations.

Since then, Barnes has been involved with numerous study abroad trips. She enjoys experiencing a place she already loves through the eyes of a student.

Her course in Cape Town, South Africa, is particularly powerful, Barnes said. She marveled at the appreciation people in the non-profit groups have for the students’ work, which is developed in only a few short days.

“I remember at the end of one presentation to a women’s shelter, one of the ladies working there broke into song because she was so excited about and appreciative of the work the students had done,” Barnes said.

People, she admitted, are what truly draw her to a place. This is a key reason why the Republic of Zambia in South Africa has become one of her favorite destinations.

Barnes, along with six other faculty members of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications, first visited the country during a funded project with the Zambia Institute of Mass Communications. The partnership primarily focused on improving journalism about HIV and AIDS.

Barnes didn’t stop at just one project in Zambia. She soon found herself heavily involved with non-profit groups like The Bushcamp Company, which she wrote about in her travel blog.

In 2013, she sat in on a presentation by Lisa Gower, the Conservation, Education and Community Coordinator for The Bushcamp Company. She is also Barnes’ good friend.

Gower took her to visit the Mfuwe Secondary School dorms for boys in grade 10, and what Barnes noticed surprised her.

She saw one large room, each wall lined with bunk beds with maybe a foot between each set. The only storage available for the boys were the boxes and suitcases they had brought, or hanging what they could on nails hammered into the walls and rafters.

The mattresses in particular caught Barnes’ eye. The bedding was “literally falling apart–with tears in the fabric and stuffing coming out,” she recalled in one of her travel posts.

“So, these guys were definitely inspiring … and here they were, sleeping two to a twin-sized bunk on disintegrating mattresses,” she wrote.

She asked Gower how much new beds would cost, and with help from several other donors, helped provide new mattresses for the boys by whom she had been so deeply touched.

Don E. Schultz, Professor Emeritus of Service at Northwestern University’s Medill School, said this is just the type of person Barnes is. He credited her dynamic personality and the way she can be personable with anyone for her success.

“Everybody likes her,” he added.

Barnes and Schultz first met when she attended Northwestern University to obtain a Master’s Degree in Science in Advertising. She assisted Schultz with research during her time there, before leaving to pursue jobs in the work field.

It didn’t take too long for the teacher and student to reunite again when Barnes returned for her Ph.D. in Communication Studies with his help. He said he became a mentor for Barnes and tried to take on the role as a father figure for her, since Barnes lost her real father at a young age.

Schultz has stayed by her side in order to mentor and encourage her over the years.

“I can describe her very simply,” Schultz said, “she is the daughter I never had.”

Schultz believes one of the greatest qualities Barnes brings to UK as the director of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications is her global view of what’s going on, which could be different from the faculty who stay confined to the university.

Barnes has held administrative positions at Syracuse University and taught at Northwestern University, Miami University, Pennsylvania State University and now UK. Schultz said everywhere she went, she revolutionized the program.

Scoobie Ryan, the Associate Director of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at UK, speaks with the same positivity.

Ryan described Barnes as a “tireless advocate” for the school and one of the best and most dedicated people she has ever worked with.

Ryan assists with the annual Patterson Simulation where an international crisis is fabricated, and the journalism and Patterson School of Diplomacy students must cover it as if in real time. One of her favorite memories with Barnes was when she helped with the event.

The crisis at the time dealt with Mexican drug cartels and explosions in Las Vegas.

“While the students were writing about the drug lords and terrorists, she wrote a story about Elvis impersonators flooding the streets as they evacuated the hotel after the bombing,” Ryan said, “It just shows how she gets involved with everything at the school, but also injects humor whenever she can.”

Barnes might be leaving as director, but she does not plan to leave UK anytime soon. In fact, she says she is excited to travel back to her first love: Teaching.

Barnes will work with UK’s International Center for the remainder of the summer, then split her time during the Fall 2015 semester between the International Center and the new Integrated Strategic Communications department.

She will eventually become a full-time ISC faculty member in Spring 2017.

“I’m very glad life brought me to Kentucky. I’ve gotten to go to so many places I never would have imagined during my time at UK and I’m grateful for that,” Barnes said. “I can’t wait to see what’s next.”