Janie Barnett

headshot of a women wearing a black blouse

Award: Honorary Membership
Winner: Janie Barnett

Janie Barnett, Associate Executive Director of AACRAO and “passionate, energetic, quick-thinking whirling dervish meets pragmatism, leadership, organization, and aplomb,” will be retiring this month after being the heart and soul of AACRAO for more than 20 years.

Barnett’s contribution to transforming AACRAO from a financially struggling organization in the late 1990s into the thriving international association it is today cannot be overstated.

Barnett started her career in higher education in 1970, working at the Community College of Denver (Auraria Campus). From there she went to the University of California-San Diego, Iowa State University, and the University of Glasgow (Scotland) before coming to AACRAO. During her time on campuses she was involved in state, regional, and national boards, serving as the President of the National Student Employment Association (NSEA) for three years.

During her career at Iowa State, Barnett worked for Jerry Sullivan and when he moved to UC Boulder, Sullivan tried to recruit her to come with.
During her career at Iowa State, Barnett worked for Jerry Sullivan and when he moved to UC Boulder, Sullivan tried to recruit her to come with.

“My girls were in school and my family was rooted in Iowa; I didn’t want to move,” Barnett said. “But when he was hired as the Executive Director at AACRAO, I was in Scotland, and my kids were in college, and again he offered me a job. It seemed like the right time and I was excited for a change.”

That was in October of 1998, and Sullivan and Barnett’s first order of business was to recruit Barmak Nassirian.

“Barmak’s job was to put AACRAO on the map with government relations, and I was to make revenue with meetings and sponsorships”, Barnett said. “The three of us spent all our time in the conference room with our heads together, trying to provide important member benefits with no budget and reduced staff.”

With a supportive board and a small-but-mighty office staff, the team began to push the needle out of the red and into the black.

“We were a team, and we all put our shoulders to the wheel,” Barnett said. “Most of the organizations I’d been involved with previously were entirely volunteer organizations, so we didn’t have the time and resources to accomplish what we wanted. So despite the fact that we had only seven staff, I felt like a kid in a candy store with all these talented people who knew what to do and could provide those needed services to members. They’re geared up, this is their job as professionals, and you aren’t asking someone to volunteer to do something.”

Over her 20 years with AACRAO, Barnett has worked in a variety of areas, including meetings, professional development, membership, corporate partners and sponsorships, international relations, and more. 

Barnett has also built strong relationships and partnerships with key higher education innovators, and was recently recognized by the Postsecondary Education Standards Council (PESC) for Distinguished Service to higher education.

“The easy part is selling AACRAO,” Barnett said. “These companies need us, and we need them, so it’s a win-win.”

On international, one of the most fascinating and satisfying parts of her career has been the opportunity to work with international education initiatives. As part of the Groningen Declaration and as a key liaison with Associacion de Responsables de Servicios Escolares y Estudiantiles (ARSEE), Barnett has enjoyed advancing an international vision of higher education associations. 

Those who know Barnett best aren’t surprised to hear that her post-retirement plans begin with San Diego. Despite her worldly travels, Barnett’s always been a California girl.

Her oceanside relaxation will have to fit into a busy travel schedule, as Barnett hopes to return to Hawaii, Mexico, Scotland and more, in her newfound free time.

“I have friends all over the world because of my job and I want to spend time with them and have them visit me!” she said.

Barnett is also prioritizing family time, including special trips with her mother, siblings, and children.

“Most importantly, I want to spend time with my daughters Lyndsey and Brooke and their husbands Todd and Matthew and grandchildren Camila (11), Cedar (8), Fisher (6), and Vivienne (3) in Montana and Colorado,” Barnett said. “I want to take them traveling with me and have them come share my love of the ocean and San Diego with me in California.”

Barnett also hopes to stay involved with education through consulting and volunteer work. Immigration, DACA and gender equality are particularly dear to her, and San Diego is probably a good place to work with these issues.

“I’m not sure there’s enough time in the day for everything I want to do!” she laughed -- which is exactly those who know her expect of Barnett upon retirement.

“Janie was my boss when I was an undergraduate working in the financial aid office at Iowa State, so to work with her again in this great phase of her career has been both a privilege and a joy,” AACRAO Executive Director Mike Reilly reflected. “She still keeps an unbelievable pace and I'm sure that will continue into retirement. I challenge anyone to try to keep up with her.”
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