Juliana SmithBy Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
            Throughout her life, Juliana Smith has never been disappointed by obeying God. 

            But that was put to the test 2 ½ years ago, when she “felt in her spirit that Baylor would be in my future” and even sensed a prompting from God to send an introductory email to Vice President and Director of Athletics Mack Rhoades. 

            This came at a time when she was “probably most aligned” in her role as Deputy Athletics Director at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and was working for a boss in Dr. Nicki Moore “who I really respect and love.” In no way was she looking to leave a place of comfort. 

            “Two months later, I’m cleaning my house and listening to worship music,” she said, “and I felt direction to send this email. And I was like, ‘I’m not sending this man an email. Turn the music up!’ That was my response, I turned the music up. But I couldn’t let it go, I couldn’t shake it, I couldn’t even sweep.”

            With the title of “Unconventional Introduction,” Juliana typed out an email to a man she had never met, “not even in the convention circuit” and made it clear that she was “not currently looking for a job or pursuing other opportunities.”

            “But I am a woman of great faith who can share how God has divinely orchestrated every career move I’ve made (from my graduate assistant position to my current role),” she wrote in the email. “He has never instructed me to proactively reach out in this way (nor have I ever), but my obedience in the past has only led to the manifestation of His best for me. So, here I am. I do not have an ask of you at this moment. I simply felt led to share this directly with you.” 

            That email was dated March 6, 2021. She never heard back, but was “actually relieved to not get a response.”

            Fast forward two years, and Juliana got a call from Baylor Senior Associate AD Kevin Goll, saying that “Mack told me to reach out.”

            “And I’m thinking, ‘Well, he must have seen my email. Why else would Mack be telling you to reach out to me when I’ve never met the guy,”’ she said. 

            But the fact is, as she found out in the interview process, Mack Rhoades never saw the email. 

            After re-sending the email – “that was the first day Mack actually saw it” – Juliana got a call the next week saying that Baylor was “going in a different direction” for the position she had interviewed for. 

            “But going through the process, after reading the email, they were thinking that there was a gap that had already been identified that needed to be filled related to the spiritual growth pillar that might actually work out really well,” she said. “That’s how it developed. That position probably developed overnight.”

            The changes were announced in June, and Juliana took over the newly created position of Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director for Mission Impact and Enrichment on July 24. 

Juliana Smith            “It’s funny, because there was no anxiety around, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t get the job,’ because I knew that God called me here,” she said. “Maybe now is not the time, and it will come open at some other time. And I’ve gone through this process, people know me. And I felt good about them and the conversations I had had in the process. So, I wasn’t concerned about anything. And at this point, it had been 2 ½ years, I had no reason not to be (patient).”

            Baylor Deputy Athletics Director Jovan Overshown said she has been energized “to observe her journey to Waco and the undeniable hand of God in all of it.”

            “Her breadth of experiences, capacity to navigate challenging issues with grace, ability to quickly foster authentic relationships, and overall commitment to excellence make her a tremendous asset to our department,” Overshown said. “Most noteworthy, however, is her commitment to faithfully responding to God’s call on her life. Juliana is meant to be at Baylor, and Baylor is meant for her.”

            Juliana’s journey actually began on the east coast, being born in Newark, N.J. The family moved to Georgia when she was 5, “equidistance between UGA (University of Georgia) and Georgia Tech, 45 minutes in either direction.”

            While she was also a cheerleader and played basketball until her junior year of high school, Juliana’s path to college was paved as a thrower for the track & field team. She didn’t get serious about track until the summer after her junior year in high school, when she joined a throws-only club out of Marietta, Ga. 

            “This coach saw me throwing the shot and said, ‘Hey, do you want to go to college?”’ Juliana said. “I knew I was going to college, but he said, ‘Do you want somebody to pay for it?’ Now, we’re talking. He said I would actually be really good at the weight throw. So, I would drive an hour, an hour and 20 minutes in Atlanta traffic sometimes, after school to get to Marietta three or four times a week to do club track practice.”

            Although she had signed with Ole Miss, Juliana planned on staying closer to home and walking on at the University of Georgia when her brother, Bani, was murdered two days before she was scheduled to leave for Oxford, Miss. 
Juliana Smith
            “Thank God for my parents,” she said. “I had already made up my mind in 24 hours that I was going to go to Georgia. The night before orientation, that morning, they woke me up at 2 a.m. and my stuff was already packed. They put me in the car and drove me to Oxford and said, ‘You’re going to school.’ And they didn’t let me take my car. That’s why they dropped me off.”

            Already intent on being a criminal justice major with an emphasis in Homeland Security, Juliana said her brother’s tragic murder “just added some confirmation that that’s what I thought I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

            Through that program, she spent the summer before her senior year in Scotland studying abroad and met with DEA, MI5 and MI6 agents. As part of a master’s program, she also did an internship with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, Cold Case Unit.

            “It was near and dear to my heart, because my brother’s murder is still unsolved,” she said. “That was something where I felt like I could give back. Once cases go cold with the Bureau of Investigation, they allow interns to go through all of the case files, photographs, interviews, and see if they find anything that was missed the first time around.”

            As a sophomore at Ole Miss, she became the second female student-athlete in program history to win an SEC Indoor championship, winning the weight throw at the 2009 meet with a mark of 62 feet, 3 inches. 

            “The SEC championship my sophomore year was, honestly, just the competitor in me,” Juliana said. “I didn’t go in ranked at all, I didn’t go in expecting to win. I hadn’t really thrown that far before the meet. But I don’t like losing, and there were two other Smiths in front of me. The top three in that meet were all Smiths – Kristin Smith and Heather Smith (both Kentucky) and then me.”

            Coming back from a back injury that limited her in 2010, Juliana ended her career on a high note with a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships with a mark of 66-11 ½, earning All-America honors. 

            “I would say we’re natural athletes in my family,” she said. “I have twin sisters who did track at Farleigh Dickinson. So, I knew sports was an avenue to get to college. . . . Once I knew how to do (the weight throw), it was fine. I had the strength, I just needed to learn the technique.”

            With a hiring freeze on government jobs, Juliana decided to go to graduate school. And while she was working on her master’s in criminal justice, “I realized that I didn’t love it.”

            “I had come to peace with my brother’s passing, and I realized I did not want to pursue a career where I couldn’t come home and talk to my husband about it,” she said. “And there was just something about sports that I missed. I never wanted to coach. But it’s funny that as a supervisor, all I do is coach, all the time.”

            Juliana actually ended up working on two master’s degrees at the same time, the one in Homeland Security at Ole Miss and an education degree at Oklahoma with an emphasis in intercollegiate athletics administration. 

            At OU, she started as a graduate assistant through the Athletics Diversity Council, a “pipeline program . . . for women or people of color, essentially to help to grow the industry,” Juliana said. 

            Although the program was designed for the GAs to “rotate across department units within athletics to figure out what you want to do,” Juliana quickly found her niche as the grad assistant for the Senior Woman Administrator. Getting a broad-based education, she worked with the SWA on oversight of student-athlete development, strength and conditioning, sports medicine, student-athlete housing, gender equity/Title IX initiatives and strategic planning. 

            Still not convinced that she wanted to work in college athletics, Juliana was still applying to jobs for the federal government (specifically the FBI) when she was hired for a newly structured position at Texas Tech as Director of Operations for men’s and women’s golf, tennis and track & field/cross country. 

            Just over a year later, she returned to the University of Oklahoma as Director of Human Resources for Athletics. 

            “I wasn’t interested in going back,” she said. “But I prayed about it and was humbled. I knew in my heart that I was supposed to go back, even though it wasn’t necessarily what I had envisioned. And it was one of the best career decisions I’ve made to date.”

            Without any kind of an HR background, Juliana found that her intelligence and security studies training was critical in overseeing personnel. 

            “It was one of the most rewarding roles that I didn’t imagine I would be able to have that early in my career,” she said. “Just the impact that I had on being a first-touch point for people considering the institution, the athletics department, and those who were on their way out. People’s highest moments when they got their dream job or lowest moments losing their dream job. I certainly didn’t take lightly that I was entrusted with that process.”

Juliana Smith

            Promoted to Assistant AD for HR & Administrative Engagement in July 2017, Juliana spent a little more than a year in that role before moving again to Colgate University as Senior Associate AD/Chief of Staff under Dr. Nicki Moore. 

            “About 2 ½ years into my second stint at Oklahoma, I felt that I had made the impact that I was called to make there,” she said. “And while I wasn’t looking, I’m not one to look, I believe you’re called to positions and you’re led and things happen the way they’re supposed to happen.”

            Nine months into her job at Colgate, Juliana was promoted to the No. 2 post as Deputy AD/Senior Woman Administrator.

            “I’d say the most significant role anyone has is managing people and stewarding their lives,” she said. “That’s their livelihood, that’s how they feed their family, it’s how some people find purpose. I understood the responsibility when I oversaw HR. I don’t know that there was another job that would have been weightier for someone at that point in my tenure to have, to prepare for the Deputy AD role I had at Colgate.”

            Always independent since leaving home for college at 17 years old, Juliana found in a new place that she had to allow people to support her with things she was struggling with “professionally, personally, outside of work, just with the transition” at Colgate. 

            “I was used to being in places that were unfamiliar,” she said. “And I guess I didn’t realize how unfamiliar a place could be until I got there. But the people were amazing, so it was easy for me to find my footing. And I praise God for this, because I feel like He put the people in my life at work, at church, who I needed at the time.”

            Juliana admits that she hasn’t been at Baylor long enough to get comfortable in her role to “steward our pillar of spiritual growth.”

            “Right now, that includes our sports ministry team,” she said. “But I imagine and feel strongly that it will be more than just our sports ministry team as we build out what it looks like to be a Christ-centered department and how we communicate about it and how we help people, no matter where they are in their walks, grow spiritually in the truest form.”

            Juliana will also serve as the Athletics Diversity and Inclusion Designee (ADID) and liaison to NCAA and Big 12 Conference diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and initiatives and sport administrator for the women’s basketball team. 

            Barely two weeks into her tenure at Baylor, Juliana left with the women’s basketball team on a 10-day trip to Italy and Greece. 

            “I don’t think there would have been another setting to onboard as a sport administrator that would allow exponential growth and relationship-building outside of a foreign tour,” she said. “I could have gone to every practice for 10 days straight, and I wouldn’t have been able to learn about the women in the program, learn about the staff, get to know them, allow them to get to know me in such a short period of time. 

            “You see how people respond to adversity, when the schedule changes, when we have delays, when we’re trying a new sport and we don’t like it. All the things that happen when you travel and experience new cultures, to have that experience with them was amazing.”

            Overshown said Juliana is “going to positively shake some things up, and I’m excited to be along for the ride.”

            “Honestly, this is probably the first position where I would say if I didn’t do anything else, I think I’d be okay,” she said. “When you don’t have a milestone you’re trying to hit or a rung you’re trying to achieve, it allows you to be where your feet are planted. In any position I’ve been in, I’ve always said that I’m going to do this job to the best of my ability until I’m no longer in this job. But I don’t know that I could have prayed for a more perfect position.”

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