Janie Barnett, Associate Executive Director of AACRAO and “passionate, energetic, quick-thinking whirling dervish meets pragmatism, leadership, organization, and aplomb,”* has announced her intention to retire at the end of April 2019.
“Janie has been the heart and soul of AACRAO for more than 20 years,” said AACRAO Executive Director Mike Reilly. “She is the first person to come to mind when many people think about AACRAO.”
Indeed, 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.
Share your well-wishes with Janie here.
“In my tenure with AACRAO, which started in 2001 in Seattle, I have seen the organization grow, thrive, do some serious introspection, find solid footing and expand member involvement beyond the 'good old boys and girls club,'” said AACRAO President Tina Falkner. “I know a large part of the impetus and continued movement in this direction was because of Janie and how she views and values people. She is the heart of AACRAO.”
“Janie and AACRAO are synonymous, it’s difficult to think of one without the other,” agreed CollegeSource CEO Kerry Cooper.
Looking back: From bust to boom
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.
“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.”
"Janie Barnett and I worked together for 21 years, initially at Iowa State University and finally at AACRAO," said Sullivan. "She started as Secretary moved to Office Manager, and finished up as Associate Executive Director. What stands out in my mind today regardless of all of her achievements and skills that Janie reached and possessed was her ability and desire to build a community wherever she was. Whether it was reaching out to other departments in a large university to create better services for students and better working conditions for colleagues or building relationships in an international organization like AACRAO. At AACRAO Janie connected members over decades and across borders to build a stronger organization and a more satisfying experience. She is one of a kind."
Big shoes to fill
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. Here are a few reflections from her and her collaborators.
On meetings. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of amazing speakers like Robert Gates, Madeline Albright, Danny Glover, Michele Norris -- too many to name!” Barnett said. “Bringing these people to our Annual Meeting is so critical. We want our members to feel like they’ve had an experience they wouldn’t normally have on campus. Conferences should go beyond training and networking to give people a memorable experience.”
“Janie has been an important face of AACRAO for twenty years,” said AACRAO Past President Joe Roof. “Janie’s warm and inviting personality really provides a very human touch to an organization that many members know only through publications, newsletters or meetings. During any AACRAO event, you will see Janie connecting with people who are new to AACRAO.”
On partnerships and relationships. “I’ve been fortunate to have worked with Janie since she started at AACRAO,” said Saira Burki, Associate Director, Marketing. “She is effectively the ‘mom’ of the office--remembering birthdays, organizing celebrations, and providing friendship, support, and guidance to the staff. But she is also beloved by our members. Once you meet her, she is your friend forever. She will leave a lasting legacy at AACRAO for her dedication to the association, our members, and to higher education. We will miss her!”
“From the very first moment you meet Janie, things begin to move, have momentum and become real,” elaborated AACRAO VP for IT Mark McConahay. “Before you know it and even without sensing it, you are part of her team and assisting with whatever needs to be done! And you’re loving it! Janie has not only provided the objective, she has made it yours and truly ‘ours.’ But the greatest gift of all is that when you work and spend time with her, she is the greatest friend you’ll ever know!"
“During my tenure on the AACRAO Board, Janie was an incredible resource for any question I had related to AACRAO,” Roof added. “She worked tirelessly to ensure all of our meetings, ranging from Board Meetings to the Annual Meeting, were a success.”
Barnett was equally effusive about her connection with AACRAO members, board, and staff, who she called a “remarkable group of people who are passionate about AACRAO.”
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.
“Janie is the master of bringing like minded individuals together to make a difference in higher education,” said Cooper.
“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, Barnett said. As part of the Groningen Declaration and as a key liaison with Associacion de Responsables de Servicios Escolares y Estudiantiles, A. C. (ARSEE), Barnett has enjoyed advancing an international vision of higher education associations. (Read more about Barnett’s recent recognition for her work with ARSEE.)
“I’m proud of all the work we’ve done to diversify the organization membership, board, and staff, but there’s more to do,” she said. “I’m excited about the direction we’re moving in.”
Looking forward: Travel and family
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.
“I haven’t lived in San Diego for a lot of years, so I’m excited to return and get to know it again,” she said. “I hope to get myself on a good beach-walking schedule, and I have a stack of books I’m going to read that I haven’t had time for. And I also hope to get some good sleep after I retire.”
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,” 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.”
To share your well-wishes, visit www.aacrao.org/Janie2019.
* Credit for this description goes to Mark McConahay.