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Jennifer B. Litchman Senior Vice President for External Relations | University of Maryland Baltimo

Empowering Communities: Jennifer B. Litchman’s Leadership Legacy in Higher Education

Jennifer B. Litchman has created a world where choosing kindness is the ultimate choice, embodying the wisdom that ‘If you have the choice to be right or to be kind, choose kind.When a crisis looms, events need orchestrating and messages demand finesse—this is where Jennifer’s prowess shines as the Senior Vice President for External Relations at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). With a dynamic career in public affairs, she masterfully navigates the realms of branding, crisis communication, event management, government affairs, community engagement and the art of the written word.

Her canvas is vast, spanning from branding strategies that breathe life into the UMB’s identity to meticulously crafted special events that leave a lasting impact. While she doesn’t directly manage editorial and graphic design, her strategic oversight ensures that every communication piece from UMB tells a compelling story. Jennifer’s leadership is not just about managing crises—it’s about fostering a culture where kindness and competence intersect, shaping UMB’s identity and impact on the world.

Jennifer goes beyond the norm, leading transformative projects that redefine engagement. In higher education’s complexity, she’s a key player, infusing innovation and creativity into every endeavor.

However, Jennifer’s impact extends far beyond her professional roles. She’s a staunch advocate for women’s issues and the arts. In Jennifer’s world, the connections she fosters are more than mere networking—they are conduits for empowerment. Her dedication to mentoring, especially young women, empowers them to define their unique paths to success.

Let’s delve into the story of a visionary public affairs professional who leaves an indelible mark, crafting connections and communities driven by the power of kindness and shared passion!

Beneath the Surface

In the early stages of her career, fresh out of graduate school and promoted to her first professional position, Jennifer encountered a defining moment. Entrusted with an Ad Council campaign on education standards, excitement brimmed as the ads, featuring prominent Major League baseball stars of the time, were set to debut at a Baltimore Orioles game with luminaries like Cal Ripken, Jr., President Bill Clinton and the MLB Commissioner. However, the event, which should have highlighted her organization’s efforts, became MLB-centric, leaving Jennifer disheartened. Reflecting on this, she shares, “You have to look at the big picture.”

Despite her initial disappointment, Jennifer learned a profound lesson. Instead of succumbing to frustration, she focused on the campaign’s ultimate goal—to spread the message about education standards. “Our message still got out there,” she realized, acknowledging the impact of their work. The overall experience taught her emotional resilience and the importance of taking a long view and maintaining perspective. She understood that immediate setbacks should not overshadow the broader purpose. This resilience became a guiding principle in her career, underscoring the importance of steadfast determination and foresight. Jennifer’s ability to persist in the face of challenges became a driving force emphasizing the significance of long-term vision and unwavering commitment.

Jennifer’s ability to rise above momentary disappointments showcased her dedication to her vision and goals. Despite setbacks, her commitment to her objectives remained unshaken. This early lesson helped mold her into a professional who values the bigger picture. Her journey has served as a testament to the power of perseverance and strategic vision, inspiring others to navigate challenges with resilience. By focusing on ultimate objectives and understanding that setbacks are often temporary roadblocks on the path to long-lasting achievement, she encourages others to overcome obstacles with determination and a clear vision for their future careers.

Mastering the Symphony

With her wealth of experience spanning government, private sector and higher education Jennifer believes in the power of teamwork. She says that she never wants to be the smartest person in the room and that she “builds teams with deep expertise in each area,”. “My creativity, my vision, and my willingness to take risks,” she states, have been key to her success at UMB.

Jennifer’s approach centers on identifying needs and proactively addressing them. She emphasizes collective growth and innovation underscoring her commitment to fostering a collaborative environment. She emphasizes, “I see a need—and I fill it.” This mindset not only enriches her own journey but also uplifts those around her, making her an invaluable asset to UMB.

Spotlight on Passion

Jennifer’s passion for the arts and culture led her to create the Council for the Arts & Culture at UMB in 2014. She recalls, “I wanted to create a mechanism by which we could promote the rich 200+ year history of the university and celebrate the creative and artistic talents of the university community, as well as raise awareness of the links between the arts and sciences and wellness and healing.” Under her guidance, the arts council publishes an award-winning art and literary journal, has installed three outdoor art galleries and has commissioned vibrant murals in neighborhood schools, fostering creativity at a grassroots level. One striking collaboration emerged with Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre, conveniently located adjacent to UMB’s campus.

Jennifer shares, “Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre is yadjacent to UMB’s campus and it has become such a symbiotic relationship—it just makes sense to work together to create opportunities for our employees and students to take in a show and to work with Everyman’s education department to create a summer program at our Community Engagement Center for young children in our neighborhood who might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend a summer camp.”

This initiative pemphasizes Jennifer’s commitment to integrating arts, education and community engagement seamlessly at UMB.

Moreover, Jennifer’s vision for the arts at UMB includes alumni outreach, hosting events featuring renowned figures in the arts and literature like David Simon, John Waters, Alice McDermott, Nina Totenberg, Michele Norris, and Dr. Ken Jeong. These events, she believes, “allow us to come together to share our ideas and experiences and they help us bridge divides as we learn from each other and heal together.”

These gatherings not only celebrate the arts but also serve as platforms for meaningful conversations, fostering connections and mutual understanding. Jennifer’s initiatives illustrate how the arts can transcend boundaries, uniting diverse communities through shared creativity and expression.

The Artistry of Impact  

Jennifer takes immense pride in her role as the executive producer of the documentary series ‘From West Baltimore.’ The series is the remarkable journeys of five neighborhood kids in Baltimore who defied the odds, graduating from high school and pursuing higher education. These students, part of a pioneering National Cancer Institute program, started their path in 6th grade, breaking the norm of beginning mentorship in 9th grade. Jennifer says, “If you really want to impact a child’s life, you must start much earlier and involve their parents.” The documentary, spanning six installments, premieres annually on Maryland Public Television and has garnered two Emmy nominations.

The transformative power of early intervention shines through as one student’s aspirations shift from a hairdresser to a pediatric anesthesiologist or child psychologist, and another transitions from dreams of NBA stardom to a budding journalist. Their stories stand as evidence of the potential unlocked through opportunity, reinforcing Jennifer’s dedication to early and comprehensive support for children, underscoring the profound impact it can have on their future aspirations and achievements.

The Transformative Steward

Jennifer finds profound fulfillment in her work, stating, “The rewards far outweigh the challenges.” Her journey in higher education, though not planned, became a calling. Engaged in the university’s mission, she’s captivated by the impact it generates, seeing it as something “greater than myself.” For her, education is transformative.

In Oprah Winfrey’s words, “Education is the key to unlocking the world.” Jennifer embraces this sentiment, seeing her role as granting others this vital passport to opportunity. She relishes the privilege, metaphorically stamping the passports of those she serves. This perspective highlights not only her dedication to the community but also her deep belief in the power of education, making her work profoundly meaningful and impactful.

Nurturing Connections  

In the intricate world of managing the external relations portfolio of a renowned health and human services research university, Jennifer emphasizes the pivotal role of relationship-building. “It truly all comes down to relationships,” she affirms. Upholding the university’s brand amidst diverse schools demands consistency in messaging, a challenge she navigates with strategic collaboration.

Jennifer invests time in fostering strong ties with deans, communication teams and alumni relations, ensuring everyone aligns with the overarching mission and vision. Her dedication to these relationships safeguards the university’s brand and reputation.

Guiding Lights

In her role at the university, Jennifer recounts a pivotal moment that shaped her commitment to empowering others. She recalls mentoring a woman in her office who lacked a clear plan for her future. “I encouraged her to go to college and get her degree,” Jennifer states. After facing personal challenges, the mentee initially paused her education journey. When Jennifer revisited the topic during a performance review, the woman was moved to tears. “I’m crying because no one has ever asked me about my plans for the future,” the woman revealed.

This emotional encounter stirred Jennifer’s determination to instigate change. Inspired, she founded UMBrella (UMB’s Roundtable on Empowerment in Leadership and Leveraging Aspirations), a platform dedicated to aiding women in their professional journeys.She says, “UMBrella works to support the success of women at UMB by building community and helping them achieve their personal and professional goals, enhancing their leadership skills, and championing women at all levels of the organization.”

Under Jennifer’s leadership, the UMBrella Advisory Board crafts initiatives to bolster women’s leadership skills;heir efforts manifest through a coaching program, which has now reached its 6th cohort, an annual day-long symposium celebrating Women’s History Month, networking sessions, keynote lectures, as well as scholarships and awards programs.

Jennifer is proud of  UMBrella’s influence at UMB, noting, “Many women in our coaching program have increased their salaries and received promotions or entirely new positions due to their participation.” The data underscores the tangible and positive impact on the lives and careers of women at UMB, showcasing Jennifer’s unwavering dedication to their success.

Jennifer’s impact became evident when her mentee persevered and earned a bachelor’s degree in HR. Not only did she secure a position in UMB’s HR department, but she also earned two more promotions since.

Jennifer reflects on this success story with immense pride. Through UMBrella, she continues to champion women’s success, embodying the change she aspired to see. This tale showcases the transformative power of mentorship and encouragement, affirming Jennifer’s dedication to fostering pathways to success for women at UMB.

The Balancing Act

Jennifer is aware that there is often a delicate balance between communicating quickly and communicating all of the facts, especially in crises. In challenging situations, there may be times when an organization needs to communicate but does not yet have all the facts, which may not align with immediate communication needs. Prioritizing the well-being of constituents is vital andJennifer advocates for thoughtful messaging

Is it important to say this now, or can we wait?” she questions, highlighting the significance of timing and relevance.

Jennifer advocates for a mindful approach, especially when the safety and health of constituents is at stake. Acknowledging the human element in every crisis, she stresses the necessity of crafting messages with empathy. “Taking the people who will be impacted by your messaging into account is key,” she asserts, emphasizing the need to prioritize the well-being of those involved.

In her approach, the human factor takes precedence. This perspective underscores her commitment to not just delivering information but doing so with empathy and consideration, ensuring that communication serves the best interests of those affected, especially in times of crisis.

Paving the Way

After nearly 25 years at UMB, Jennifer says there is a lot more she still wants to accomplish, and envisions a future deeply rooted in advocacy, particularly for the arts and women’s issues. Her approach is hands-on, identifying gaps and bridging them. She’s passionate about connecting people, especially women, with mentors and sponsors.

For her, mentoring younger women is crucial as they navigate their unique paths to success. Her aspiration extends beyond UMB, “It would be wonderful if the model we’ve created here at UMB could be replicated at other organizations.” She envisions a ripple effect, enriching relationships between organizations and the communities they serve, accentuating her commitment to empowering others and fostering lasting positive change.

The Art of Ascent

Jennifer’s wisdom shines through in her advice: “Try things you don’t think you can do. Say yes when you want to say no.” Embracing challenges, she encourages stepping into the unknown. Her approach defies conventional hesitations. “Can I do this?  I don’t know—I haven’t tried yet,” she confidently asserts when faced with unfamiliar tasks.

Jennifer challenges the common tendency to seek perfection, especially among women. She questions, “If we could check all the boxes, why would we want the job?” For her, growth, challenge and fun lie in uncharted territories. Her words resonate, urging readers to embrace opportunities despite uncertainties, reminding them that it’s in the unfamiliar where true potential and fulfillment often reside.