Baker Center’s goals: Leadership and solutions

Tom KingFarragut

If you’re interested in public leadership and public affairs at either the local, state or federal levels, solving some of biggest problems for the greater good in a pragmatic style, or improving civic discourse, it is recommended you visit with Dr. Marianne Wanamaker, dean of the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. School of Public Policy and Public Affairs.

Baker, representing Tennessee in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, was well known as a man who could work with members of both parties to create and pass effective and much-needed legislation. That skill helped him rise to the rank of Senate minority leader and then Senate majority leader.

The Baker School is the newest academic unit at UT and the only such school in the state working to attract up-and-coming college students and those already enrolled.

Dr. Wanamaker, named to head the center in June 2021, also is an associate professor of economics with expertise in labor economics, education and workforce development. Last week she spoke to the Rotary Club of Farragut about the school.

“At the Baker School, our mission is to educate skilled problem solvers and prepare them to take public leadership roles and help our country solve the biggest challenges of our time,” she said. “We want to be part of the solutions.”

In a letter on the school’s website, she wrote: “…. As the flagship land grant institution in a state known for skilled political leadership, it is time for UT Knoxville to intentionally produce leaders who will serve at the highest levels of local, state and federal government. And in the next 10 years, the Baker School will establish a national reputation for graduating skilled public problem solvers who are prepared to take leadership roles.”

To achieve this objective, the Baker School’s strategic plan identifies existing assets and opportunities. Here are the four goals guiding the center:

  • Dramatically expand the university’s capacity to produce the next generation of public servants who are grounded in the legacy of Howard Baker.
  • Build a set of innovative, best-in-class programs to support public servants and public-facing professionals statewide at all stages of their careers.
  • Fulfill the state of Tennessee’s bipartisan mandate for the Institute of American Civics to strengthen confidence in American democratic institutions and renew the state’s civic health.
  • Respond to society’s most pressing public problems with high quality research and public engagement.

Dr. Wanamaker is especially concerned about getting our young people engaged in civic life. “How do you attract 18-year-olds to government?” she asked. “It’s not easy, but many of our students today are interested in learning how to solve problems and that’s attracting them.”

This coming fall the Baker School should have 35 undergraduate students enrolled with the goal of 50 in 2025. It is still hiring faculty.

One very interesting program she mentioned that makes a lot of sense – paying students $1,000 per semester to observe public meetings in town – Knoxville City Council, Knox County Commission and Knox County school board meetings.

The Baker School’s network reaches across disciplines to include every level of government, the nonprofit sector, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority and others, she said.

The Baker Center is located at 1640 Cumberland Ave. Info:

( or call (865) 974-0931

Tom King is a career journalist and a past president of the Rotary Club of Farragut, which meets each Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. at the Farragut Community Center, 239 Jamestown Blvd. If you want more information about Rotary or are interested in attending a meeting or joining, please email Tom or text him at 865-659-3562.


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