Darius Barnes always knew he wanted to be an educator. By age 12, he was volunteering in the Sunday School nursery. Years later, he helped mold young minds as a YMCA counselor in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia.
When financial troubles while a student at Virginia Commonwealth forced him to put his educational career on hold, Barnes joined the Army. He served eight years, including a year stationed with the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea, then returned to the states to pick up where he left off. In the summer of 2018, at age 34, Barnes moved to Pembroke and enrolled in the Elementary Education program at UNC Pembroke.
As a military-affiliated student, Barnes said the faculty and staff, including the Office of Academic and Military Outreach, was committed to his success from day one.
“I can’t begin to express my gratitude for all the incredible staff in the Office of Academic and Military Outreach. They helped get my belongings from the Army down here. They helped me get my apartment and arrange my work study. I never had to worry at all.”
Barnes is among the more than 1,100 military-affiliated students at UNCP. Of that total, there are 407 veterans and 204 current active-duty guard or reservists. Among the 17 universities in the UNC System, UNCP is consistently recognized as a leader in higher education for our military.
On November 21, Barnes will cross the stage along with 670 other graduates during Winter Commencement. He plans to move to Texas to pursue his passion for teaching.
“Being at UNCP has been a breath of fresh air. All my experiences with clubs and associations, such as the Student Veterans of America (SVA) were wonderful. I learned so much from my classmates. I got a chance to study abroad in Belize. (UNC) Pembroke was the right place at the right time for me. It has given me a springboard to really take off.”
On this Veterans Day, Sgt. Barnes took a moment to reflect on his military service and years he spent as a multichannel transmission systems operator. In addition to South Korea, he was also stationed with the 101st Infantry Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and with the 25th Infantry Division at Wheeler Army Airfield on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii.
“For me, I knew my purpose and that was to be the best soldier I could be. I learned what it takes to be an effective leader, how to train others and how to communicate with others. From my time living in a foreign country, I learned to embrace change and diversity and how to be flexible. In the Army, you find ways to adapt and overcome. You learn to embrace teamwork.”
Barnes plans to apply these same skills in the classroom and become the best educational leader he can be.
“I learned something from every class and ever professor. I’m going to look back at memories of UNCP very fondly. I will always speak highly of UNCP. I was able to grow, develop and thrive here, especially in the School of Education. The signs you see on campus that read, ‘You can get there from here,’ are absolutely a true statement.”