WWU President Recipient of First Lady Award in Education

Dr. Jahnae H. Barnett, president of William Woods University for the past 18 years, has been selected as the inaugural First Lady in Education.


First Lady Melanie Blunt created the First Lady Awards to celebrate history-making Missouri women in five categories (Business and Innovation, Culture and Humanities, Education, Health and Wellness and Volunteerism) as part of Women’s History Month in March.


Barnett has been at William Woods in various roles since 1973 and was appointed president in 1990. As president, she led the management team in the development of undergraduate and graduate degree programs for working adults, transition from college to university status, and transition from single-sex to coeducational enrollment.


Under her guidance, the university has maintained fiscal stability and fiscal growth while expanding enrollment from 500 to more than 3,000 students representing most states and many foreign countries. Through its outreach program, WWU has taken its degree programs to approximately 125 locations in Missouri and has been approved to begin offering programs in Arkansas.


Barnett’s accomplishments have been acknowledged frequently as she has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the “National Chief Executive Leadership Award” from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), “Ole Miss Alumni of the Year,” “Arkansas State University Distinguished Alumna,” “Arkansas State University Outstanding Business Alumni,” Mid-Missouri Magazine‘s “Twenty Most Influential Women in Mid-Missouri” and “Woman of Achievement,” selected by the National Alpha Omicron Pi Foundation.


Originally from Caruthersville, Mo., Barnett is the daughter of the late Delbert and Jerry Harper. She is married to Eddie Barnett, owner of Barnett Company.

The nominees and recipients of the First Lady Awards will be honored at a ceremony March 4 at the Missouri Governor’s Mansion. Blunt personally contacted each of the winners to congratulate them for this achievement.


“I am honored to recognize these five women, along with the more than 300 nominees, for their contributions to Missouri,” Blunt said. “I congratulate the winners and thank all the outstanding women who were nominated for making a significant and lasting impact on our state, our nation and our world.”

A committee appointed by the Missouri Women’s Council evaluated more than 300 nominations. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry sponsored the inaugural First Lady Awards.