From Oak Ridge to Microsoft, alum returns to middle school hoping to inspire others

OAK RIDGE (WATE) — When we’re in school, teachers tell us the sky is the limit, that nothing is out of reach and to always dream big. Years ago at Jefferson Middle School in Oak Ridge there was one student, paying very close attention.

“I came back to the Oak Ridge School System because I reached a point in my career where it was an opportunity to give back,” said Oak Ridge Alum and now Regional Manager for Microsoft, Stephen Barnes. “They’ve coached me through and the impact that they had is that they kept me off the streets so I feel obligated to come back and give back to them.”

Reminding them, from personal experience, that as educators anything you say or do can literally change someone’s life.

“The students are different than the generation I grew up in. I grew up in the Encyclopedia Britannica generation, right? When we didn’t have access to everything. The generation now has access to truly everything,” said Barnes.

Class photo of Stephen Barnes

Barnes’ goal with his presentation was to shed light on the ever-changing workforce and the need for change in education. A change geared toward a generation that is plugged in and connected.

“And their devices are 10-times more powerful than the old Zach Morris cell phone I had growing up and so with that information they’re able to really truly do anything and empower themselves to lead and dream big and do anything they want in their life,” said Barnes. “They can do it.”

However, it takes more than the technology and even those using it to create a positive difference, it takes those who dedicate decades of their life to educating others.

Stephen Barnes stands with his two daughters

“My hope and goal over the next year is not only to give back to the students but also empower the teachers and let them know technology is something you can embrace, change is something you can embrace,” said Barnes.

Some of those teachers, like Jim Dodson, who’s taught at Jefferson Middle for 30-years was in the room watching his work come full circle.

“It’s always great to see somebody succeed but it’s more gratifying to see somebody succeed that’s come through your school system and you’ve had a direct influence,” said Dodson.

After recently moving back to the area Barnes has agreed to be on the school’s leadership council. If things couldn’t possibly come more full circle, his kids will now walk the same hall he did and go to the same school.

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