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Political science major earns UW-Eau Claire degree in two years

| Judy Berthiaume

You know those really bright and ambitious teens who always seems a bit wiser than their years?

Liam Barnes is absolutely one of them.

This spring, the 19-year-old will graduate from UW-Eau Claire after just two years with a major in political science and a minor in economics.

Safe to say, it has been a busy couple of years for the Blugold from Elk River, Minnesota.

Barnes has had multiple internships, served as a teaching assistant in political science, worked as an economics tutor, participated in Student Senate and was active in Greek life at UW-Eau Claire.

He also spent a summer studying at the London School of Economics.

“After just two years at UWEC, I'm excited to graduate at 19,” says Barnes, who was home-schooled during high school. “Internships and my summer studying at the London School of Economics kept me busy and were key to my success.”

Not surprisingly, he already has a job, which he began even before his college graduation.

He is a field organizer for U.S. Rep. Ron Kind’s re-election campaign. In that role, his primary responsibilities include organizing volunteers to make calls and — in more typical times — knock on doors.

“The scope and focus of the job have obviously changed since I started in March,” Barnes says. “I hope to gain valuable experience that can be translated to another job after the election. I've always thought about working in D.C., and this could help me. It also will help when I'm applying to grad school.”

While Barnes has been a Blugold for just two years, he did get a jump on his college career by taking courses at a community college beginning at age 15.

By the time he came to UW-Eau Claire, he already had 48 college credits on his transcript.

Taking 18-credit semesters, enrolling in Winterim and a summer studying abroad all helped him finish his undergraduate degree in just two years, achieving his goal of earning his degree in 2 1/2 years or less.

He set the ambitious timeline because he wanted to save money for graduate school, says Barnes, noting that he also never particularly enjoyed going to school so it was appealing to be done faster.

So, what inspired him to be a Blugold?

The same kinds of things that bring many high-achieving students to campus.

“UW-Eau Claire offers some of the same things private schools offer,” Barnes says. “Professors teach classes, classes are smaller and they value things like internships and undergrad research. It also has a great political science program and approachable professors.

“And UWEC does all that at an affordable price.”

The beautiful campus was a bonus, he says.

Political science has been a longtime interest, Barnes says. That interest grew even stronger after he completed an internship in the Minnesota Governor’s Office during his senior year of high school, while he already was taking classes at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Minnesota.

That first internship helped him build a resume that led to additional opportunities. For example, during his first semester at UW-Eau Claire, he had a fellowship with the Wisconsin Democratic Campaign, and he completed a summer internship with the University of Minnesota Extension Office.

“I’m particularly interested in the interplay between politics and economics, which is another reason I chose Eau Claire,” Barnes says. “The strong economics program attracted me.”

Last summer, Barnes spent 11 weeks studying at the London School of Economic, earning 11 credits while also building a network that stretches around the world.

“I had a great time meeting people from all over the world,” Barnes says. “I have continued to stay connected to them. It was really such a great experience to broaden my perspective.”

During his first semester at UW-Eau Claire, Barnes enrolled in a course on the United Nations that was taught by Dr. Ali Abootalebi, professor of political science. He found both the class and his professor interesting, he says.

“Dr. Abootalebi was interesting and helpful,” Barnes says. “I like to connect with my professors during their office hours. This interchange with professors was one of the things I missed this pass semester when classes went online. I am thankful for Dr. A and all the professors and staff at UWEC who have helped me.”

During his second semester on campus, he worked as a teaching assistant for Abootalebi for a world politics class, a class he had taken two years earlier at community college, Barnes says, adding that he has since been a TA for additional political science classes and worked as a tutor in the economics department.

While he enjoyed his many experiences at UW-Eau Claire, Barnes says among the highlights of his time as a Blugold was developing lifelong friendships and being part of Greek life.

“I joined Delta Sigma Phi second semester of my first year and I have finished this year as sergeant-at-arms,” Barnes says. “UWEC Greek life has been the most fun and fulfilling part of my UWEC career.”

While on campus, he also was part of the Student Senate’s Intergovernmental Affairs Commission, working mainly on economic development issues.

Barnes says he is not sure just yet how he will use his UW-Eau Claire degree and long list of experiences and accomplishments in the future.

Returning to the London School of Economics to earn his master’s degree is a path he is considering, as is looking for work in Washington, D.C., Toronto or London. He is also considering starting an investment firm.

“I might just take time off after the election and center myself,” Barnes says. “I am not sure what the future is for sure after all of this COVID stuff, so I am just going to play it by ear.”

Photo caption: Liam Barnes, a Blugold who is graduating after just two years, spent a summer studying abroad at the London School of Economics.