Good luck finding a better fit than the Lake Forest College—Dr. Jill M. Baren one.
You won’t find it.
Named the College’s 14th president—and first female president—before the start of the 2022-2023 academic year last month, Baren majored in biochemistry at Brown University, cherished every minute of a modern architecture class she took as a senior there, collected advanced degrees in medicine and medical ethics, believes “the student is truly the sacred center of decision-making in higher education,” considers a liberal arts campus the ideal setting to challenge assumptions, and earned an executive MBA in her 50s.
Baren’s jam-packed tool kit contains implements of science, medicine, art, and business.
Forklifts balk at carrying it.
“I took that class with three apartment roommates and ate it up,” Baren says of the architecture course. “A legendary professor taught it. It was an early-morning class, the lights would be turned off, and we’d view pictures of architectural trends and learn all about the history of buildings.
“I’ve taken an architecture river tour in Chicago at least five times.”
And now, as the successor of Stephen Schutt (who served Lake Forest College for 21 years), Baren gets to steer a private liberal arts college that was born in 1857 and is home to 1,650 students representing nearly every state and more than 100 countries.
“The unique brand that Lake Forest College has created, with its marriage of a strong liberal arts tradition and exceptional career preparation, positions the College as a leader in higher education,” says Baren, who, before being unanimously selected by the Lake Forest College Board of Trustees, was provost and vice president of academic affairs at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and held the position of president of the American Board of Emergency Medicine from 2019-2020.
“This fresh and modern approach to a rigorous liberal arts education resonates strongly with me and made the position at Lake Forest College a very appealing opportunity.”
Baren got hooked on science in the seventh grade, when her father, Bob—a metallurgical engineer and professor at Temple University in Philadelphia—began conducting experiments on the kitchen table at home. Smitten and way more curious than the animated George, young Jill became a “nerdy science girl” and the only female in her AP chemistry class at Abington High School near Philadelphia.
“I had all kinds of friends and did a lot of different things in high school,” recalls Baren, who played tennis and field hockey for AHS Galloping Ghosts teams, joined the French Club, and earned income in a variety of jobs, from babysitting to lifeguarding to sales at a clothing store.
Education Stop No. 1 on her post-high school path was Brown University. She vividly remembers passing through the Ivy League school’s ornamental main entrance—the Van Wickle Gates—for the first time and developing an appreciation for liberal arts and the invaluable aspects of a foundational education.
“I focused on sciences and healthcare at Brown, but courses in religion, French, and political science, among others, also satisfied my intellectual curiosity,” Baren says. “I learned how to analyze, to think, and how best to approach a problem outside my field of study. The academic environment at Brown exposed me to the importance of flexibility and adaptation, two of the qualities we espouse at Lake Forest College.”
Baren received her Doctor of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, her Master of Science in Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, and completed her postgraduate clinical training at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California.
She also taught and researched at Yale University and Penn.
“Early in my professional career as an academic physician, I felt a tremendous calling to pursue ethics training and to establish deeper connections with humanists within and beyond my field,” says Baren, the wife of Detroit native Ken, an ENT doctor, and the mother of their sons Noah, 25, and Drew, 23. “This had a tremendous impact on my subsequent teaching, research, and professional interactions.”
Baren got her executive MBA at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, in part because of her desire to add leadership to her professional arsenal.
“I wanted to become a student of leadership, while learning about entrepreneurship,” says Baren, a nature-lover, snow skier, cyclist, and hiker. “I also wanted to gain the skills needed to lead an organization and to build a team. As a leader, I’m a combination of decisiveness and deliberation. I had to be decisive in emergency medicine, and it’s important, crucial, to be deliberate in other scenarios. I plan to engage deliberately and frequently with students to hear their unique voices about what is important to their futures.
“I’m comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty,” she continues. “There are elements of unpredictability in a higher education environment. There are parents who are uncertain about the value of a liberal arts education.”
But Baren welcomes the opportunities to sit down with any parent—with anyone, really— and turn uncertainty into certainty with her impassioned thoughts about the pricelessness of liberal arts.
“Why are students at Lake Forest College?” she says. “They’re here to take advantage of wonderful opportunities to grow in four years and transform their lives. Seniors won’t be the same people they were as freshmen. A liberal arts education isn’t just about learning; it’s also about relationship-building, with faculty, staff, and students. I loved my college years.”
If it sounds like Dr. Jill M. Baren would like nothing more than to dodge falling leaves while skipping to a challenging class on a picturesque campus today, your ears are fine.
“If I could,” she says, “I’d go back to being a college student in a heartbeat.”
Lake Forest College is located at 555 Sheridan Road in Lake Forest. The Admissions Office phone number is 847-735-5000.