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Student Spotlight: Janae Barnes Sets Sights on Hospitality Degree

Janae Barnes Student Spotlight

By Elizabeth L. Brown

TAMPA (February 28, 2022) -- Janae Barnes has tried college before. Three times, in fact.

First at Hunter College in Manhattan. Right after high school. But her time at the urban commuter school was short-lived. After about a year, she decided the school wasn’t a good fit.

Barnes then switched to Brooklyn’s Kingsborough Community College where she earned a two-year degree in data processing. Shortly after graduation, Barnes enrolled at nearby Baruch College where she pursued a business management degree while working full-time as an executive assistant at the L’Oreal cosmetics company.

“I earned a lot of credit, but I felt like I was never touching my major,” she said of her time at Baruch, a public college in New York City. “It just felt like it was going to take forever.”

So, when she learned she was pregnant with her daughter — the news came as the semester was ending — she decided it was time to bow out of Baruch.

Now at age 45, Barnes has returned to college for the fourth, and hopefully, final time.

Her decades-long journey of getting a bachelor’s degree has landed the wife and mother at the USF Muma College of Business as a student in the hospitality and tourism management program on the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

It is her first venture back into the classroom since leaving Baruch College 14 years ago and she said she is determined not to leave USF without a degree.

And while she lives in Wesley Chapel with her husband and daughter, she has so far taken online courses and avoided the typical one-way 90-minute commute down Interstate 75 to the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

She’s eyeing a career in event planning and has enjoyed the few courses she takes each semester as a part-time hospitality and tourism management student.

“I’ve always liked event planning. I love the background stuff. I’m a logistics person and I just love everything that goes into it and seeing the outcome. Love that,” she said. “Event planning is what I love to do.”

Like her old days at Baruch, she is taking classes while juggling a full-time job. Barnes works as a facilities specialist at Centene Corporation, a managed health care company located near Tampa International Airport.  

She’s also doing double duty as a mom, shuttling around her 14-year-old high school freshman, in between work and classes.

“My daughter is a very busy bee. She’s doing dance. She’s doing orchestra. She has weightlifting after school, but a lot of times she doesn’t go because I don’t have anybody to take her,” Barnes said. “With her doing all of those things, I have to adjust my schedule when I can.”

Barnes does all this schedule-shifting and commuting all while making time to collaborate with her fellow hospitality classmates on Microsoft Teams. She says she sometimes stays up until 3 a.m. doing schoolwork, only to get up early to head to her job at Centene.

She says her classmates, most of whom are only a few years older than her daughter, have told her how much they admire her for finding a way to juggle schoolwork, a job, and raising a family.

But she doesn’t see it that way. She doesn’t want to use her full plate as a crutch.

“To me, it doesn’t seem like a lot, because I’m so used to it,” she said. “I’m making it work. I’m taking nothing for granted.”

And when her schedule allows, she tries to volunteer at USF hospitality program events to get some industry experience, on top of her real-life experience. Her goal is to get her foot in the door in the event planning industry, either working for an event planning business or at a hotel that plans events.

“If you don’t put yourself out there, it’s not going to come to you,” she said. “You have to go for it. Sometimes something will end up in your lap, but you have to learn how to take that ball and run with it.”

She says she knows her father would be proud of her decision to go back to school to carve a new career, after all these years. In 2018, she moved from New York to Wesley Chapel to be closer to her ailing father, who passed away in December 2020.

In January, the college began offering the hospitality and tourism management major on all three campuses, which opened more course offerings on the Tampa campus, thus making her commutes a little easier.

Ironically, her daughter was the main reason she left college 14 years ago. And now her daughter and showing her what it takes to get a college degree is one of the main reasons she’s committed to getting her degree.

“I want to show her it’s possible, to show her you could do it. I want that degree. I want that bachelor’s degree. Doing it — that’s what matters,” she said. “Once the degree is done, and I find that niche or that area of work I want and where I want to be, I think it’ll be even better.”