Jen Baker is just the fifth Director of Athletics and Recreation at Johns Hopkins since 1950 and succeeded Alanna W. Shanahan, who served in the position since July 2016.
Baker has been an integral member of the department’s senior-leadership team since her arrival at Homewood. She has overseen the day-to-day operation of the Department of Athletics with oversight in the planning, development and management of all fiscal and administrative operations. As such, she has directed all revenue-generating initiatives and short and long-term budget planning for Johns Hopkins’ highly successful 24-sport varsity athletic program.
In addition, Baker has served as the sport administrator for the Blue Jay women’s lacrosse, football, men’s and women’s basketball and women’s soccer programs while also providing administrative support for men’s lacrosse. She led the search to fill Johns Hopkins’ head football coaching position in early 2019 and has been actively involved in the hiring of two other head coaches, several assistant coaches and a number of staff members in athletics and recreation.
Among her many key initiatives at Johns Hopkins has been the launching of a unique leadership development program for Johns Hopkins student athletes (Blue Jays LEAD). The Blue Jays LEAD program made its debut in 2017-18 with a mission of empowering student-athletes to actualize the leader within and inspire action in their communities at Johns Hopkins and beyond.
Baker inherits a program that recently completed perhaps the greatest athletic year in school history. Johns Hopkins placed second in the 2018-19 Learfield IMG College Directors’ Cup Standings, claimed 11 conference championships, produced 10 CoSIDA/Google Cloud Academic All-Americans and had 45 student-athletes earn All-America honors. The runner-up finish in the Directors’ Cup standings matched the best finish in school history and 20 of Johns Hopkins’ 24 teams competed in the NCAA Tournament or Championship.
Baker came to Johns Hopkins from Under Armour, where she served as a Senior Manager of Corporate Real Estate, Facilities and Operations. She was responsible for the daily operation of all UA facilities at its nearby Port Covington headquarters and provided support to all UA offices outside of Baltimore. That support included new facility activation, vendor relationships and energy management. One of Baker’s key initiatives at UA was the activation of the company’s newest offices in San Francisco and Portland.
Prior to her time at Under Armour, Baker spent three years at Cornell University, where she ascended to the position of Associate Director of Athletics for Facilities and played an integral role in the oversight of all internal department operations as a member of the senior leadership team. She was responsible for all athletic facilities, and integral in the budgeting, planning and programming of all related projects.
During her time at Cornell, Baker also designed and developed the Big Red Leadership Institute (BRLI), a program for more than 500 student-athletes across all 37 varsity athletic teams at the school. The BRLI delivered key leadership concepts set in the athletics context with a mission of building confident leaders and followers who provided immediate impact to their teams and communities.
With the BRLI, Baker implemented five separate, but complementary, proprietary developmental curricula for five distinct student cohorts (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, non-captain seniors and captains). Each group moved through a unique curriculum designed specifically for their class year and corresponding level of influence and responsibility.
Baker is a co-founder of Athletics Leadership Consulting (ALC), whose mission is to make leadership development accessible to all athletes, coaches and organizational support staff. ALC leverages athletics as a tool for leadership education as it designs and delivers original content that allows athletes to develop leadership and teamwork skills as an integrated component of their competitive experience.
Baker graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a degree in aerospace engineering and was a member of the Academy’s women’s lacrosse club team. After the Naval Academy, Baker spent seven years in the Navy, including three years as a pilot and four as a construction manager and facilities engineer. She later earned an MBA and a master’s in mechanical engineering from Cornell.
A Baltimore area native, Baker attended nearby Hereford High School, where she was a member of the girl’s lacrosse program. She later helped lead the club lacrosse team to a national championship at the Naval Academy. Baker’s father (David Dowell ’66), uncle (Brice Dowell ’70) and grandfather (Robert Dowell ’38) are all Johns Hopkins graduates.
In this episode, we discuss Jen’s upbringing and what life was like for her as a kid (6:35), if lacrosse was popular for girls in Baltimore when she was growing up (8:49), if lacrosse came to her naturally (9:40), if she played other sports growing up (10:25), what it was like being in dance from a young age (12:40), her relationship with her brother and how they were similar and different (15:05), her relationship with her mother and what her parents’ divorce and relationship was like for her (15:45), if the values she learned from her mom were the same as the values she learned from her dad (19:37), which parent she’s more similar too (22:00), how she fell in love with lacrosse (23:25), how she decided she wanted to go to the naval academy (24:35), if she continues to feel motivated to prove people wrong (28:33), if she was fully committed to Navy when looking at schools, or if she also considered schools like West Point and Air Force (32:24), the role of women in the military (33:35), what was underneath her reasoning for wanting to become a fighter pilot (34:35), how she defines and thinks about competition (35:15), her lacrosse experience at the Naval Academy (38:25), she and her brother’s differences in competitive nature growing up (40:51), her first failure and her experience as a woman in flight school (42:10), if she had any thoughts at the time about what she would do after serving in the military (54:15), what it was like having the rug ripped out from under her when she discovered she had migraines and would no longer be able to fly (56:45), what she learned from that experience (58:38), what she did at Cornell and what the rest of her journey looked like (1:02:51), why she bypassed the “safe” choice of working at Deloitte and took the risk of going into sports (1:07:57), what she has found to be different about actually being an AD vs what she thought being an AD would be like (1:10:33), what she has learned about leadership along the way, as well as some things that are misunderstood about leadership (1:14:30),
You can check out Hopkins Sports at hopkinssports.com and @hopkinssports on Instagram, and also make sure to give her a follow on Twitter @_JenBaker.
I wrote a book called “Shift Your Mind” that was released in October of 2020, and you can order it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Additionally, I have launched a company called Strong Skills, and I encourage you to check out our new website https://www.strongskills.co/. If you liked this episode and/or any others, please follow me on Twitter: @brianlevenson or Instagram: @Intentional_Performers.
Thanks for listening.