Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Amazing Lynn Barnett

[note: Post title lifted from an email subject line.]

I’ve had the opportunity to meet many great people over the years. Lynn Barnett who
passed away yesterday morning was one of the greatest….

Lynn blue badge sitting with a bunch of trouble makers.
My guess is she was telling us to get our act together :)
Around 2000 at AACC meeting in Chicago.
It was 1997 and we were in the middle of the dot com boom. Microsoft had announced a program in collaboration with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). The program was called Working Connections and paired 5 mentor colleges from across the country with what became 63 mentee colleges, helping them setup programs, develop courses, help faculty prepare to teach new courses, build laboratory spaces, recruit and retain students, apply for grants, etc. I was teaching at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) and very interested in this program. Lots of meetings at the time with some other great ones (STCC President Andy Scibelli and VP John Dunn are a couple) and after a lot of back and forth we decided to apply for one of the 5 mentor slots. We knew it was a bit of a long shot but….. our proposal was accepted and we became a mentor college! The mystery lead responsible for the program at the AACC was a VP by the name of Lynn Barnett.  

At the same time I was shifting gears from my full time/load faculty position at STCC to a position with a newly funded National Science Foundation Center of Excellence, the National Center for Telecommunications Technologies (NCTT) located at STCC. A couple years earlier the NSF had established the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program that focused on two year Associate Degree level STEM education. AACC was closely tied with the NSF and the new ATE program honcho at AACC was – you guessed it – this mystery VP by the name of Lynn Barnett.

I remember thinking who is this VP Lynn Barnett? Two pretty important and high profile national programs. I was new to the community college grant stuff and had no idea what to expect. What did I get myself into? Should I go back to teaching? Hmmmm….. I’ve got to at least check this stuff out. Let me meet this VP Lynn Barnett – she will be key in my decisions…. Find out what she is like…. Is she the kind of person I could work with?

In March 1998 we had our first Working Connections meeting at Microsoft. I had talked to Lynn on the phone and gone back and forth with her by email. She seemed ok but…. let’s see what she is like in person. So – I packed up a couple of suits and ties (remember those?) and flew out to Seattle for our first meeting. Shuttled over to the hotel in downtown Seattle and, being dressed rather casual, recall thinking I hope I don't end up meeting anyone important in the lobby. Walk in the door and this woman dressed in jeans, flannel shirt and fleece looks at me and says “Hello Gordon”. It was Lynn and she was so cool. How the heck did she know it was me? Easy going yet so focused – I felt like we were instant friends. You rarely meet people that can make everyone in a large room feel like they are looking and speaking directly to you. That was Lynn. And…. no suit and tie required. Yo gotta love that!

As part of the Microsoft program we mentored colleges around the country and went on a lot of site visits together. Most memorable is the trip to Ilisagvik College on the North Slope of Alaska in Utqiagvik. Bush plane flights village to village with a 14 year old pilot. One of my favorite memories - riding around with Lynn on a six-wheel ATV one evening after meetings ….. we had been told be careful because “Polar bears know that humans are tasty and easy to catch.” I got to know one of the most impactful people I’ve ever met. 

Always a smile…. always asking about my children and always so very focused on community college STEM students and their success. Lynn influenced thousands of lives in so many positive ways. Lynn dealt with cancer for many years but unless you knew about it you had no idea. It finally caught up with her. Her legacy lives on. Thanks Lynn!

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