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Five Questions: Alanna Shanahan

photo of Alanna ShanahanAlanna Shanahan was appointed Director of Athletics and Recreation in July 2016. She is the fourth director at Johns Hopkins since 1950 and the first woman to hold the position.

1. What falls under your purview as athletic director?

I’m responsible for all aspects of the rec center—from self-directed fitness to fitness classes, experiential education, our outdoor programs, club programs, and intramural programs. On the athletic side, I have our 24 varsity programs, two of which compete at the Division I level (women’s and men’s lacrosse) and 22 at the Division III level.

2. What are your primary goals as athletic director?

I think a great deal about how athletics can be a community builder on this campus. Experiencing our events, coming to an athletic contest, is an opportunity to decompress and spend quality social time with friends. I’m also focusing on how to expand around campus wellness. Another piece that I think about is leadership training. A lot of people think about college athletics and say, “Well, you develop leadership skills,” and you do. But unless you’re actually asked to reflect on your experiences and learn a little bit about the theoretical and practical application of leadership, I feel like it’s a missed opportunity. So I’m trying to figure out how we build focused leadership training into our athletic experience.

3. How do you connect with students on a daily basis?

Obviously, I go to a lot of athletic events—which is fantastic. I enjoy watching our students compete. But you don’t really get to build rapport with them when they’re playing a sport, and you’re in the stands being a fan. So I host small, informal lunches—both with our student athletes, as well as students who participate in our rec program, because I want to understand their experiences more fully and without a real agenda. Those conversations are unbelievably insightful.

4. One year in, what has really stood out about Hopkins athletics?

The amount of broad-based success we have is truly off the charts. I saw an example of that this spring. On a Sunday afternoon, within roughly a two-hour window, I got to witness five different Hopkins teams win conference championships: men’s tennis, baseball, our track teams, and women’s tennis. And that experience is just very representative of what Hopkins is able to accomplish.

5. What was the best lesson you learned through playing a sport?

The number one thing I learned playing lacrosse is the work ethic that you end up instilling in yourself because you’re passionate about growing. And along with that comes discipline—the personal discipline to train on your own and around your weaknesses—and accountability, which involves learning to hold yourself and others accountable. I also learned that you have to fail in order to grow. For me, failing early and often was a huge advantage to prepare me to be resilient and have the grit necessary to plow through the challenging times.

—Compiled by Mary K. Zajac