Penn made it official Wednesday. Alanna Shanahan is returning to her alma mater as athletic director.
A former deputy athletic director at Penn, Shanahan had been at Johns Hopkins since 2016, first as athletic director, then as vice provost for student affairs since 2019. But describing herself as “so darned competitive,” Shanahan had expected a return to working in sports eventually.
Shanahan was a lacrosse player at Penn, class of 1996, and stayed at the school in various posts, eventually working as deputy athletic director and senior women’s administrator.
» READ MORE: Grace Calhoun leaves Penn to become Brown AD
“We set out to bring to Penn a trailblazing leader in intercollegiate athletics, and that is exactly what we have with Alanna Shanahan,” Penn president Amy Gutmann said in a statement. “Alanna has the vision, experience, expertise, and energy to ensure that Penn Athletics continues its commitment to excellence both on and off the playing field. For nearly two decades, Alanna proudly donned the Red and Blue as a student athlete, coach, and administrator. Today, we are thrilled to welcome her back home to Penn.”
Shanahan, who grew up in Upper Darby and was a three-sport athlete at Episcopal Academy, called her experience as an undergraduate at Penn “life-changing,” as the first in her family to go to college.
“For me, this return means so much more than just landing my dream job,” Shanahan said. “It really is personal in every sense of the word.”
Shanahan, who becomes the fifth current female athletic director in the Ivy League among the eight schools, had been a strong candidate for the position as deputy when Grace Calhoun got the job. (Calhoun left Penn to become vice president of athletics and recreation at Brown.) What were the benefits of not getting the job, of going to Hopkins and running the department there?
“The opportunity to really test my leadership skills sets, and be the person who really calls that final shot, to be the person who sets the strategic direction — I got to do a lot of that at Penn ...” Shanahan said of her time as deputy. “But sitting in the chair and making that final call is a different type of experience. Knowing at the end of the day, you are truly responsible for everything that happens.”
The promotion to vice provost of student affairs, Shanahan said, “infinitely grew my skill set, and gave me much broader exposure to higher education generally and everything that presidents and provosts need to struggle with on a daily basis.”
A short list of what she wants to tackle first?
“I think one of the first pieces is just really helping the community get back on track in light of COVID,” Shanahan said, speaking of “reenergizing” the department after the pandemic and also doing a lot of listening.
While it was “very cool” to be the first female athletic director at Hopkins,’' Shanahan said. “I have to tell you, after they wrote that in my bio, I kind of forgot about it. I’m hopeful that we’re at the point where female athletic directors is not big news. I’ll say this … I never really loved the ‘Senior Women’s Administrator’ moniker that the NCAA used over time. I feel like: Why as women do we need this today?”
She’d always viewed herself as “an athletics professional — it’s where I spent the majority of my career. Even when Hopkins asked me to consider the vice provost position, I was a little bit hesitant. … I think there’s a part of me where athletics will always be at my core. I think there’s a part of me that predicted I would likely pivot back to athletics.”