Amelia and Rocky Barnes.Three years after establishing the Barnes Family Endowed Scholarship, Rocky and Amelia Barnes have added $500,000 to the fund in a continual effort to support physical therapy students in the School of Health Professions. The scholarship is awarded to one student each year, and the additional funds will enable a larger scholarship to be awarded.

Both Rocky, ’78, and Amelia, ’80, are alumni of the physical therapy program at UAB. Rocky serves as president of PT Solutions, a physical therapy provider that spans 22 states and nearly 300 locations. He said his success in the field is largely due to the training he received at UAB’s physical therapy program.

“UAB has always been one of the top schools in the country, and we were fortunate enough to graduate from there,” Rocky said. “We have a desire to give back to UAB, which has been a blessing for us.”

In addition to giving a total of $600,000 to the scholarship in he and Amelia’s name, Rocky is intentional about hiring UAB physical therapy graduates—not just because they graduated from his alma mater, but because they’re the best candidates in the hiring pool, he said. Amelia likens UAB PT’s excellence to the motivation of the faculty, who drive students to want to succeed in the profession and provide a foundation of both education and professionalism.

“A gift of this size is a tremendous reflection on the impact our physical therapy department had on the Barnes family, as well as their faith in the department’s direction in training the next generation of therapists,” said Andrew J. Butler, PhD, dean of the School of Health Professions at UAB. “I want to personally thank Rocky and Amelia for this additional gift that I know will inspire other alumni and friends of our school to make their own transformational gifts and create life-changing moments for our future students.”

Blazer pride runs deep in the family: One of the couple’s daughters is currently in medical school at UAB, and the other will start the School of Health Professions’ Master of Science in Health Administration (MSHA) program here this fall. Because they have two daughters in post-baccalaureate programs, the family understands the cost of attaining additional higher education in 2022.

“Rocky and I both came from homes with modest incomes,” Amelia said. “We have a desire to be able to help people get through the [physical therapy] program without much debt. It is huge to be able to provide that for somebody.”

Rocky said both he and Amelia each had student loan debt upon their graduations from UAB, but that “it’s nothing compared to what school debt is now,” he said. “The thought of a student being able to graduate without an enormous amount of debt—any way we could help with that sure makes me feel good.”

And to add to that, Amelia said, the demands on physical therapy students now are greater than ever; she hopes their gift provides students with a better school-life balance, allowing them to focus on their studies in preparation for a meaningful career in the field.

“More of the students today are mature and have families, and some of our friends worked and went to PT school,” she said. “If we can provide a better school-life balance so they don’t have to work in addition to going to school, that’s tremendous and great for their mental health. It gives them the ability to learn and absorb anything they need to learn from school.”

It's an effort that aligns perfectly with that of the physical therapy department, said chair David M. Morris, P.T., Ph.D.

"In recent years, the UAB Department of Physical Therapy has accelerated its efforts to enroll students from historically underrepresented groups—including those with economic need—and gifts like this scholarship from the Barnes family are critical to these efforts,” he said. “Also, the Barnes Family Endowed Scholarship's emphasis on leadership potential is perfectly aligned with our DPT program's goals for assuring highly developed personal leadership skills in all of our graduates.”

Both Rocky and Amelia chose a career in physical therapy because they share a mutual inclination to give back and help others, Rocky said, adding that he hopes the Barnes Family Endowed Scholarship inspires and encourages others to give, as well. Amelia agreed, acknowledging that they have been blessed immensely.

“We are both givers and have servant hearts—to be a PT, you almost have to have some degree of a servant’s heart,” she said. “Coming from modest backgrounds, we’ve been blessed financially more than we ever, ever would have dreamed would be possible. Enough is enough. You’ve got to give it back.”