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Barnes Fund Will Promote Innovations in Health, Business

A $500,000 gift from Kelly and Steve Barnes will create a Health and Wellbeing Innovation Fund in the Sam M. Walton College of Business.


University of Arkansas alumni Kelly and Steve Barnes of Dallas are passionate about health care and have spent their careers in the industry. The Hot Springs natives are channeling this passion with a $500,000 commitment to the Sam M. Walton College of Business to create the Kelly and Steve Barnes Health and Wellbeing Innovation Fund, which will promote collaborations between health care and business. Their gift will also support Campaign Arkansas, the university’s $1.25 billion capital campaign focused on advancing academic opportunity.

“This generous gift from Kelly and Steve Barnes means Walton College students will work on innovative solutions to improve health and well-being for the people of Arkansas and the nation,” said Matt Waller, Walton College dean and Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair. “It is the generosity of benefactors such as Kelly and Steve that will produce fresh ideas for health and well-being and create new avenues of collaboration among a range of disciplines.”

Kelly and Steve Barnes both graduated from high school in Hot Springs, although from different schools. They met during their first semester at the University of Arkansas.

Kelly (Easter) Barnes earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an emphasis in accounting and a Master of Science in Accounting from the Walton College. She is the global and U.S. health industries leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers and has been with the firm for more than 30 years. She serves on the Walton College’s Dean’s Executive Advisory Board and is a member of the Women’s Giving Circle.

Steve Barnes graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the Walton College and earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Texas Woman’s University. He worked as a registered nurse for Parkland Hospital for more than 20 years.

“I’ve been successful because of my education at the University of Arkansas, and I want to pay that forward,” said Kelly Barnes. “I come from a family of educators, and I see the challenges of health care in the state of Arkansas.”

The Kelly and Steve Barnes Health and Wellbeing Innovation Fund will engage students by activating multidisciplinary design teams. These teams will focus on developing new models of delivery, services, products and policies in the health and wellness industry, with key priorities guided by an advisory council of experts, startups and industry. The program will equip teams with workshops and experiential learning opportunities to enable students to create the next generation of health and well-being consumer experiences.

“Access to health care is so important,” said Steve Barnes. “If you have the education, tools and access to care, you can be healthy.”

Kelly Barnes agrees. “Great health care can do great things,” she said. “As health care evolves, there’s a missing element of engaging patients as consumers. It will take a melding of business knowledge and clinical knowledge to affect changes in health and well-being and to spark innovation.”

Barnes notes that her husband is her compass, because he sees the clinical side of health care, and she sees the business side.

“There’s a great opportunity to connect the Walton College and College of Engineering at the University of Arkansas with the state’s medical school,” she said. “These student collaborations can help us find ways to provide better health care to rural communities and the state as a whole.

“To solve complex problems, you need time and a stable source of funding. This should be an ongoing effort. We want our gift to be a sustained approach to the problem we hope to help solve.”

Kelly and Steve Barnes created an endowed doctoral fellowship in the Walton College in 2005. They are Life A+ members of the Arkansas Alumni Association, members of the Chancellor’s Society and are counted as Thoroughreds for their years of consecutive giving. They are also members of the Towers of Old Main, a giving society for the university’s most generous benefactors.

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