Improving the quality of people’s lives—that’s been the goal for Clover Barnes ’01 throughout her career as nurse, manager and health care administrator.   “I never take a job that I don’t feel like I’m going to be able to help somebody who couldn’t help themselves,” says Barnes.

Connecting with patients is what keeps her grounded. Even now, as she administrates an HIV program in metropolitan Washington, D.C., overseeing a $60-million operating budget, she meets once a month with a board that includes one-third of people living with HIV. They tell her which services are working and which are not.  

“It’s anecdotal,” she says, “but it still gives you that patient connection so you’re not just moving papers around, not just funding agencies.”  

Barnes grew up in Milwaukee and moved to Washington, D.C., with her family after high school. At Howard University, she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. She planned to also get a nursing degree from Howard, but instead returned to Milwaukee to help care for her ailing grandmother.  

Barnes found a nursing program at MSOE that offered small class sizes and one-on-one attention from professors. MSOE’s nursing clinicals gave her a wide breadth of experience, she says, working with all kinds of patients from newborns to the elderly.  

She commuted to classes but still immersed herself in campus activities, participating in clubs such as the Student Union Board and serving as president of the Student Nurses Association.  

The historically black Howard University and MSOE were very different college experiences, she says. “I wanted to make the most of both of them.”  

After graduating from MSOE, she went to work at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center with plans to become a nurse practitioner. In 2003, however, she returned to Milwaukee when her grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.   

Barnes worked for Aurora Health Care, first as a patient care coordinator for the Visiting Nurses Association, and then as clinic coordinator in the Aurora Health Care Academics Clinics. While at Aurora, she won the Caregiver of the Year Award. It was a pivotal experience, she says, because that award gave her 30 minutes with Aurora’s then-president and CEO, Ed Howe.

“If I wanted to be you,” she asked him, “what would be your best advice?” Howe told her she was already more prepared than he had been because she was a clinician. What she needed was to learn the business side of running an organization. The next week, Barnes enrolled in an MBA program and graduated 18 months later.  

She gained administrative experience at Milwaukee Health Services and at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin before becoming bureau chief for the CARE, Housing and Support Services Division at the District of Columbia Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Administration.

“My mother always told me I had to do more than what she did,” says Barnes. Her mother graduated from Marquette University and made a career in community organizing. “I took it to heart when she told me she trained Barack Obama to be a community organizer in Chicago.”  

As a mentor, Barnes tells young people you won’t get anything if you won’t try. “My grandmother always told me, ‘A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.’”  

“I also tell them to help those coming behind them. Somebody helped me to get to where I am,” she says, crediting Dr. Mary Louise Brown as instrumental in helping her at MSOE, as well as the Black Nurses Association in Milwaukee.  

Barnes has served on the MSOE Alumni Association Board of Directors and the interview panels for MSOE Presidential Scholarships, and guest lectures in the School of Nursing.  

She’s earned a number of accolades and awards, including Outstanding Alumna of the Year Award in 2018. But she has more to do, she says. After all, she has two young sons watching her. It’s her goal to show John, 9, and Perry, 7, as much of the world as she can. Barnes would also like to eventually start her own health center for the under-served.  

“Then,” she says, “I’ll be ready to ride off into the sunset.”