Junior receives award named in memory of advocate for disabled

Jamie Albright, who is researching teenagers born with HIV, was honored with the Thomas Barnett “Breaking Down Barriers” Scholarship.


An Elon University junior studying the messages that adolescents living with perinatally acquired HIV receive from medical care providers is the recipient of the inaugural Thomas Barnett “Breaking Down Barriers” Scholarship.

Jamie Albright, a human service studies major and Lumen Prize recipient from Charlotte, N.C., received the honor April 26 at the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society annual awards program in Whitley Auditorium, where she met with the parents of the award’s namesake.

Barnett died in June 2007 after a lengthy battle with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare genetic disorder. The Elon University Honors Fellow and Presidential Scholar had completed much of his studies toward a degree in digital art before his health forced him to withdraw during his senior year.

Confined to a wheelchair prior to college, Barnett advocated for people with disabilities, and just weeks before his death, President Leo M. Lambert awarded him the Elon Medallion, the university’s highest honor. Barnett is the only student ever so honored. His self-portrait hangs near the elevator door on the first floor of Alamance building, and the elevator is a testimony to his advocacy.

Barnett’s parents, William and Paige, created the award in their son’s memory. It is to be awarded each year to an undergraduate who successfully completes a high-quality project on a topic related to improving the university experience of students with disabilities.

The Lumen Prize supports and celebrate academic achievements and research proposals from Elon’s top undergraduate scholars. Students work closely with their mentors over two years to pursue and complete their projects. Albright was selected as Lumen Scholar in 2011. As part of her ongoing efforts, she is developing a website for college students living with perinatally acquired HIV in finding resources for relationship and reproductive planning.

Professor Mary Jo Festle, the director of Elon’s Honors Program at the time Barnett was a student, reflected on his legacy during the ODK ceremony.

“He was a great student who majored in art but who could have majored in a number of different areas,” she said. “He also impressed everyone he encountered with his persistence in dealing with a degenerative neurological disease.

“Thomas made a difference, and now his parents are encouraging and recognizing students on our campus who also are developing projects that make a difference for students with disabilities.”