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Black History Month
2018 Honoree

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Sean Barnes

Sean Barnes

Assistant Professor of Operations Management

Robert H. Smith School of Business

University of Maryland, College Park


I was born in Chicago, and I spent my entire life growing up on the south side and suburbs of the city. My father was a physician and my mother a nursing educator, so I grew up with a standing expectation and understanding that education was important. Early on in school, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in an accelerated program with a focus on mathematics and science. Mathematics always interested me because it gave me this structured space where I could explore so many possibilities. Looking back on it, I don’t think I realized the value of being challenged that early in my education, but I think that program had a significant impact on where I am today. In addition, being a younger student in a class of older students was an underrated social experience.

Fast forwarding beyond the days of taking the short bus to school—which was another humbling experience—I rebelled against the medical tendencies of my parents and pursued multiple aerospace engineering degrees at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA.  From an early age, I developed a love for the possibilities that space offered, and this seemed like the logical next step. To this day, this was the best decision I ever made, as Georgia Tech brought so many special people and experiences into my life, including my wife Nadya; lifelong friends, fraternity Brothers, and mentors; and a wealth of opportunities for growth and development. I am very grateful to my parents and all of the other people that helped to make this possibility a reality.

Fast forward again, I decide to shift from engineering and elect to pursue my doctoral degree in Scientific Computation at the University of Maryland. Ultimately, I did not see a path for me in the aerospace industry, but along the way, I discovered a passion for computer science and applied mathematics. In order to make this transition, I felt that I needed to pursue a degree that would create opportunities in these areas that I would not be able to obtain my engineering degrees. During this program, I discovered applications of mathematics and computation to healthcare, and ultimately gave up on my rebellion against the medical space.

In my current position as a tenure-track member of the faculty, I would say that my most meaningful achievements have been the impact (and the opportunity to have an impact) on students, and the opportunity to pursue research that I think is intellectually challenging but also important to society. I believe that these two things are more than enough to sustain me for an entire career, but my most meaningful contribution has easily been raising my two children with my wife. They have given me a more meaningful perspective and appreciation for life than any professional achievement could ever offer.


Reflecting on where I am now, I would offer two pieces of advice:

  1. Embrace the journey – The path to your ultimate place in life is rarely linear. I thought for sure that aerospace engineering was going to be my path, and I ultimately decided that it wasn’t my passion after all. Don’t be afraid to change course if you find that your passion lies elsewhere. The older I’ve gotten, the more I have learned that many people have a similar story as mine, and that’s OK.
  2. Be who you are – There are times when expectations from others can cloud your perspective on how you should prioritize your career. Be who you are, do what you do best, and do what makes you happy; and if you have the opportunity, place yourself somewhere where that is valued.