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Cycle of influence

Honors College grad Roger Barnette is helping the SCHC recruit today's top students.

Roger Barnette sits in the foreground while MessageGears employees work behind him.

We’ve heard this familiar storyline: Someone is aware of the University of South Carolina because of family ties, comes to USC and loves it, then influences other family members or their children to be Gamecocks as well.
But when a person gets to USC that way and then goes out and helps recruit not just family members but prospective students from an entire city and beyond … now we’re talking about a cycle of influence with a much larger ripple effect.
That’s where Roger Barnette, ’92, comes in. “I get such joy and satisfaction from anything I can do to help this program and its students and staff,” he says.
Barnette was born in North Carolina and grew up there and in New York. His father graduated from South Carolina’s College of Business Administration (now the Moore School) in the mid 1960s, so Barnette was always well-acquainted with the Gamecocks.
He already knew in high school that he wanted to be an entrepreneur with a focus on engineering and computers. Once he was accepted into the South Carolina Honors College and won some scholarship money, “it made my decision easy,” Barnette says. “I was very comfortable with the campus, the college and the city, and I was excited to go.”
Barnette’s time at South Carolina proved to be everything he’d hoped. “Ages 18 to 21 are such formative years in every person’s life, and the University of South Carolina, and the Honors College in particular, is such an incredibly nurturing environment,” he says. He credits small class sizes, engaged professors and the SCHC’s staff as all being incredibly important during his college years.
After graduating from USC, Barnette went on to earn a master’s degree from Emory University and begin his career. He actually started his first business, an internet company called, while still in college. By 1999, was one of the 20 most-trafficked sites in the world. In spring 2001, amid the .com crash, was sold to Ask Jeeves.
Next, he started a company called Search Ignite, “a software tool for enterprises looking to buy online advertising,” Barnette says. “It started with a search engine and expanded into display advertising, affiliate marketing and other channels as well. I left the company about seven years ago, and when I left, it had grown to a 500-person business doing over $100 million annually in revenue.”
He soon landed at MessageGears, recently named one of Atlanta’s best places to work — joining the company when it had about 10 employees. MessageGears is a customer engagement platform helps large brands market to millions of customers more efficiently. One of his first steps was to codify the company’s culture. When companies are young, “We can let that happen on its own and hope that it ends up being good, or we can be purposeful about the kind of company we want to work at,” he says. So they came up with nine core values, like innovation, assuming goodwill, celebrating achievements and operating with positive energy.
“When I think about how the Honors College operates,” he says, “it’s in a very similar way. It has the same kinds of values — treating others with empathy, transparency, celebrating achievement — and does all this while being an absolutely world-class academic institution.”
“And,” he says about the SCHC, “I think that’s where I first saw that you can do all of those things.”
Those shared values, along with providing the excellent foundation upon which Barnette built his career, are why he has been so quick to help the Honors College for more than a decade. Through his involvement with the college’s partnership board, Barnette helps recruit the next generation of successful SCHC graduates. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Roger was one of the first people on the board to welcome me in and was willing to offer his time, talent and treasure for the betterment of the Honors College,” says Marcus Fogle, lead senior director of development for the college. “His affinity for the Honors College shines brightly.”

Marcus Fogle talks to attendees at the 2023 Atlanta alumni reception
Marcus Fogle (right), lead senior director of development for the Honors College, makes the rounds at the 2023 alumni reception in Atlanta, which Roger Barnette hosts and helps to sponsor.

One of the ways Barnette is helping the next generation of Gamecocks is by hosting an annual prospective student/alumni reception at the Capital City Club, where he is a member. He is also a paid sponsor of the event, along with several other alumni.
While they may seem like a small piece of the puzzle, these events fill a real need and are quite memorable for those who attend. Prospective students and their families who attend learn more about the SCHC from current students, development staff members and alumni.
Current SCHC student Ashutosh Arora is an ambassador for the college and has attended receptions in Charlotte and Atlanta. “I want to help prospective students in any way I can when they’re making their decision because I remember how confusing it was for me,” Arora says.
“The Atlanta event does a really good job of making sure we’re fostering connections with alumni,” Arora says. “At the same time, we’re able to reach out to new prospective students. They might not be able to come to Columbia, so this event does a good job of making sure we’re able to help those prospective students who may be confused or have questions but aren’t able to get them answered on campus.”
Despite the event’s success and all he does for the Honors College, Barnette remains humble. “What I do for the Honors College gives much more to me than it feels like I give to the university,” he says.
The Atlanta reception came about after Barnette learned of a similar event in Greenville. “I just immediately said, ‘We should do that in Atlanta. That would be amazing,’” Barnette says. “And the development team at the Honors College has been extremely supportive. They do, by the way, all the work. I don’t want to take credit for any of the legwork that they put into making it successful.”
Barnette’s support has enabled this reception to flourish, and it’s just one of the ways in which Barnette gives back to his alma mater and the Honors College. Thanks to his generosity, and support from members of the Honors College, the cycle of influence that started with Roger Barnette’s father decades ago is generating a ripple effect that increases its reach every year.