First-generation college student Chris Barnes (B.S. ‘04, Psychology) didn’t know what he wanted, or even what to expect when he started at Western Michigan University.
“I remember going up to campus with my then-girlfriend, now wife, to find my first few classes and buildings,” he said. “I had no idea what I was getting into or that I’d be in college/grad school for 11 years after that.”
Chris ran away from home when he was a senior at Loy Norrix High School and lived with a friend’s family with little supervision, worked at a fried chicken restaurant, and paid for everything himself. While most would probably think this sounds like a less than ideal journey to earning a college degree, “most” doesn’t include this proud alumnus.
“I went to WMU on my own dime,” he said. “It was amazing.”
During his years at Western, Chris continued to work full time while taking a full course load. This proved to be a formative experience.
“Some of the relationships I made with other WMU students at the Oakwood Bistro (the ODB as we called it) have been lifelong. It was my second family there,” he said. “I also think working in the service industry prepared me for working with humans in general. Those people skills are priceless.”
Unsure of a major, he gravitated toward general business and then took an introductory psych course. Feeling drawn to the field, Chris eventually switched to a psychology major with a statistics minor. Ironically, he’d fallen in love with stats.
“I failed college algebra a few times my freshman year, so I dropped the business and subbed stats as a minor. What was I thinking?” he joked.
In addition to working and going to school, Chris became a teaching assistant for several undergraduate psychology courses and joined Psi Chi, the psychology honors society. One course he took was particularly memorable.
“Psych 460 was a lab where we trained rats,” he said. “I stole mine and named him Jose. He lived with me for about a year after that. I’m sure he was involved in someone’s research, so I credit myself with saving his life.”
As far as professors who made a difference, Chris credits Dr. (C. Richard) Spates with helping him choose his life’s work. “I believe that one of the only reasons I am a psychologist today is because of the influence of Dr. Spates,” he said. “He took me under his wing! I ate up everything he said.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from WMU, Chris went on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate (Pys.D.) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology.
“Getting my doctorate was something I never saw in my future,” he said. “I hardly thought I’d even go to college, let alone pursue an advanced degree. Although I found the work, research and training challenging, it was worth every moment of the tears and sleepless nights.”
Today, Dr. Barnes is a clinical psychologist in private practice (Kalamazoo ADHD Consultants), which he founded. He enjoys training psychology grad students and has also started a tech company (thelazypsychologist.com) to help automate psychological assessment report writing.
“My wife and I have three kids (sixth grade, Maple Street; third grade, Winchell; and Kindergarten, Winchell),” Chris said. “Every year, we like to visit the personalized brick I now have on East Campus [outside of Heritage Hall]. It reads ‘Treat People Well,’ a core value I try to embody daily! It’s a super cool place to go and fondly reminisce of my time at WMU.”
“I live less than a mile away from campus now and hear the band practice every fall,” he added. “My favorite thing to do is sit on the back deck with a cup of tea on a crisp night and just listen.”
Chris exemplifies the Bronco spirit through his grit, growth mindset and giving back to his community.
“Make mistakes now,” he advised current Broncos. “Don’t let fear get in the way! One of my favorite quotes is from Gary Vaynerchuck (Gary Vee): ‘I’d rather try 10 things and fail eight than try two and crush them both.’”
“You learn so much from failures... I sure have. But they have propelled me further each time.”
Have an alumni success story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it! Submit your story ideas today at WMUalumni.org/YourStory.