Dennis ‘Maliq’ Barnes ’27 made national headlines last spring for his record-breaking accumulation of over $10 million in scholarships as well as his acceptance into 210 colleges. With a smorgasbord of schools across the country to choose from, Barnes ultimately decided on Cornell University.
The Sun spoke to Barnes to unpack his decision and discuss his transition from being a senior at the International High School of New Orleans to being a 16-year-old first-year at Cornell.
When Barnes began applying to college, he never intended on breaking records. Instead, he described his goal as simply finding the best opportunity to get into a college that would support him financially and academically.
Barnes did not realize he was on the verge of breaking the record for dollar amount of scholarships offered until a school board member from his high school informed him. Once Barnes knew he was close, his competitive drive led him to become the student with the most scholarship money in the history of the United States.
“[My] motivation kind of changed, [and] the dynamics of the entire situation changed,” Barnes said.
Out of his 210 college acceptances, Cornell stood out to Barnes because of the opportunity to attend one of the best engineering programs in the country.
“Cornell was that school that had the best fit for me — they accommodated me the best,” Barnes said. “They have a great education system, [and] they supported me financially. They just put everything in place for me to be successful. After doing my research, Cornell University has the best engineering school in the Ivy League.”
Barnes is currently studying computer science and electrical computer engineering in the College of Engineering.
Despite feeling like he made the right decision, the New Orleans native is still adjusting to life in Ithaca.
“I do believe that I made the right decision — I love it here at Cornell,” Barnes said. “[It is] not necessarily what I’m accustomed to. We are in a country area, as opposed to New Orleans. It’s definitely warmer [back home] … but I love it here. I think I made the right choice.”
When his nose isn’t in a book or a problem set, Barnes is involved in multiple organizations at Cornell. Barnes is preparing to attend a national conference for the National Society of Black Engineers. He is also a part of SWAG, an organization dedicated to increasing the retention and graduation rates of Black students at Cornell.
In addition to his fascination with technological innovation, Barnes is also interested in how law responds to innovation and plans to attend law school after graduating from Cornell.
“Those are two rapidly growing fields: law and technology,” Barnes said. “All the intellectual property, the NFTs, the things that are being developed require ownership of technology, [and] because it’s so rapidly growing, you’re going to need representation for it in court.”
With all of his success in acquiring scholarships and college acceptances, Barnes often speaks with students and gives them guidance on navigating the college application process.
“I talk to high school students all the time,” Barnes said. “I give advice to my friends all the time, [and] I taught for Breakthrough Collaborative over the summer. I had a lot of students that were in middle school, and I always tried to encourage them.”
Breakthrough Collaborative is a nationwide organization with the goal of bringing equity to education.
Barnes’ advice for high school students is for them to start thinking about their future, and to take advantage of their unique strengths to make the best of their lives.
“I try to encourage [students] first to know what it is they want to do,” Barnes said. “Know your limitations and know your strengths, [and] take those into consideration to use them to your advantage.”