Before she even stepped on the Johns Hopkins University campus, Alanna W. Shanahan thought that her background at an Ivy League school made her the right person to run the Baltimore institution's 24-varsity athletic department.
"I really felt like there was a lot about Hopkins that struck me based on my experience at Penn," said Shanahan, a longtime sports administrator at the University of Pennsylvania who was named Hopkins' first female athletic director Monday.
"Both are fantastic institutions, both are in urban environments, both are institutions on the rise, and both are institutions that very much value the true scholar-athlete experience. They're very dedicated to the appropriate context for student-athletes in higher education, and that's a model that I really believe in."
Shanahan, a native of Wallingford, Pa., who has been the deputy athletic director at Penn since 2012, will succeed Tom Calder, who announced in January that he would step down. She will be Hopkins' fourth athletic director since 1950 when she assumes her post July 18.
Shanahan becomes the school's first female athletic director in a landscape where progress has been slow at times. Despite efforts like Title IX that have opened the door for more than 200,000 women to participate in college sports, only 10 percent of the athletic directors in Division I sports are women, according to an August 2014 study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"I am hopeful to do some fantastic things," Shanahan said. "I'm anxious to get started. I hesitate to necessarily gravitate to the term 'pioneer,' but it's definitely something that I aspire to be. So I'm excited for the opportunity."
Shanahan, 41, is the second woman in as many months to be appointed to head a Hopkins division. In May, Dr. Redonda Miller was named president of Johns Hopkins Hospital, becoming the first female president in the institution's 127-year history.
The recent hirings of Shanahan and Miller should serve as models of inspiration, according to women's lacrosse coach Janine Tucker.
"The way I was brought up and what I've experienced is that I think women are earning these opportunities and earning the right to run their own shops," she said. "I think it's time that these things are happening and not just hiring someone because she's a woman, but hiring the best person for the job. I think that's what makes me really excited. I have a special sense of pride that a woman is going to be leading us, and I'm really looking forward to learning from her and working under her."
Shanahan visited Baltimore three times for interviews — twice on Hopkins' campus.
"The campus visits really impressed me with the caliber of people there and their passion for the institution and maximizing everything about the institution," she said.
Shanahan acknowledged that she has big shoes to fill in succeeding Calder, whose 21-year tenure as athletic director included Hopkins teams winning five national championships and 133 conference titles as well as 24 student-athletes earning prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships and 108 selected for CoSIDA Academic All-America honors. Calder has been named director of alumni programs in the school's Office of Development and Alumni Relations.
Shanahan has been the senior women's administrator at Penn's Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics since 2012 and executive director of the Penn Relays since 2011. She oversaw the football, men's and women's basketball and men's and women's lacrosse programs.
Men's lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala said Shanahan's interaction with those sports should help her as she strikes the balance between the Division I men's and women's lacrosse programs and the remaining Division III sports.
"We have a very unique place here with the multi-divisional status and the fact that at Penn she dealt with football and other sports, that bodes well for our Division III sports here," Pietramala said. "My feeling is, she is committed to continuing the success that our Division III sports have had, and that's important. And it was clear to me that she understands and will be excited to work with two programs that are now in the Big Ten and understands the landscape of Division I athletics, particularly the landscape of Division I lacrosse."
In a statement, university President Ronald J. Daniels praised Shanahan for her energy and vision.
"Her experience at Penn working with an outstanding university and its motivated, high-achieving student-athletes will serve her extremely well as the leader of the Johns Hopkins Department of Athletics and Recreation," he said. "She arrives during the most successful era in Hopkins athletics history, and we look forward to watching our student-athletes continue to flourish academically and athletically under her direction."
Shanahan's salary was not disclosed.
In addition to her various administrative roles, Shanahan was an assistant coach for the Quakers women's lacrosse team in 1998 and took over as interim head coach in 1999.
A 1996 Penn graduate with a degree in anthropology, she was a four-year starter in lacrosse and was named a co-captain and Most Valuable Player in her senior year. She also played lacrosse, basketball and field hockey at Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, Pa.
Shanahan earned her master's and doctoral degrees in education from Penn. She serves on the NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Committee.
Alanna W. Shanahan