Christopher Barnes, Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis

On May 14, UW–Madison will celebrate its Spring 2022 Commencement. We reached out to a few of our students who are graduating from programs in the School of Education to learn about their favorite UW–Madison memories and future plans. Following is a Q&A with Christopher Barnes, who is graduating with a PhD in educational leadership and policy analysis.

Chris Barnes headshot
Christopher Barnes

Where are you from and what brought you to UW–Madison?

I am from Illinois and have lived throughout the Chicago area. Originally, I came to UW–Madison to work with the Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) as a college advisor. As a product of pre-college programs, I became a PEOPLE college advisor to provide scholars the same support that was essential to my college acclimation and satisfaction.

Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies?

I decided to pursue my PhD at UW–Madison because I viewed it as the natural next step within my career (especially as someone interested in both education research and practice).

Tell us about your research.

In general, my research focuses on the lived experiences of learners from diverse communities and backgrounds. Specifically, my dissertation focused on the educational journeys and mentoring experiences of Black PhD students who attend predominantly white institutions.

What was your most meaningful experience at UW–Madison?

Working with fellow PhD students to introduce high school scholars from various backgrounds/communities to the possibilities of college (via the School of Education’s College Access Program).

What class or professor had the greatest impact on you and why?

I have an answer for both.

The class that had the greatest impact on me was Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA) 888: Assessment in Higher Education with professor Xueli Wang. Before ELPA 888, I was familiar with higher education assessment but did not realize it could be an actual career path. Having a chance to meet and interact with data analysis professionals encouraged me to pursue a career in institutional research.

The professor who had the greatest impact on me was my adviser, Rachelle Winkle-Wagner. Prior to being accepted into ELPA, I remember speaking with Dr. Winkle-Wagner about her advising philosophy and knowing for a fact (after that meeting) she was the perfect adviser for me. Dr. Winkle-Wagner’s patience and willingness to customize her advising style to fit my academic needs was more than what I could ask for in a PhD adviser. She is also bubbly and has a “glass half-full” perspective to life that is contagious.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Secure funding, establish your support system, and remember that being a professor is not the only career path available for you within the field of education. Explore your options and work with your support system (e.g., friends, advisor, faculty mentors, etc.) to find opportunities that will provide you a diverse set of transferable skills for various career paths. I believe diverse transferable skills are key to navigating the ever-changing job market.

What are your favorite “hidden gems” on campus or in Madison? 

One “hidden” but “not-so-hidden” gem of campus is the lakeshore path. When I lived near campus, I walked/ran the path (Memorial Union to University Houses) DAILY. The path is usually a calm atmosphere, and it is soothing to hear the waters of Lake Mendota clash against rocks along the shore. There is also exercise equipment (pull-up bars, etc.) along the path for those who are interested. Another local gem (for walking/hiking/biking) is the Pheasant Branch Conservancy located just outside Madison in the town of Middleton.

Read more student stories from 2022 graduates

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