Bridget Baird grew up on a nearly 200-year-old farm in Hawkins County, and today she represents East Tennessee State University at all levels of government.
ETSU had never had an executive assistant to the president for community and government relations until Baird filled that role March 25.
“I think it’s an exciting time to be at ETSU,” Baird said in a recent interview. “I’m excited about the opportunity. It’s just an exciting time to be here.”
Baird grew up in Rogersville and lives there now with her husband and son. The family still lives on the old farm.
“I think we’re eighth- or ninth-generation Tennesseans,” she said.
Her new job with ETSU will involve, as suggested by her title, government and community relations, which will entail continuing to build relationships she had already established in her previous jobs as field representatives for former U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and expanding them on behalf of ETSU. She will routinely work with local, state and federal officials, also on behalf of ETSU.
Baird attended Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., but ultimately graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in business administration.
She worked at Duke Power, now Duke Energy. She got into management there and began working in Kannapolis, N.C., for Duke.
She eventually moved back to Tennessee, where she got married and began working for the Tennessee Valley Authority in various management positions. Baird also worked on the branding and marketing for TVA’s logo.
“So I’ve had a varied background,” she said. “I got into politics by accident, in a way. I knew Congressman Bill Jenkins and I was from Rogersville, and Bill wanted somebody on his staff who had a background in energy.”
She started working for Jenkins in 1997 as a field representative in the lower-end First District counties of Hamblen, Cocke, Greene, Jefferson and Sevier. She also managed Jenkins’ campaign.
When Jenkins retired, she went to work for Corker, who became a Tennessee senator in 2006. Baird became his representative in Northeast Tennessee, which encompassed 14 counties.
“My last day with Sen. Corker was Saturday, March 23,” she said. “And I started at ETSU Monday, March 25. So I’m just in my second week. I’m still learning people.
“I think the exciting thing about it is, I don’t really have any path to follow. I can kind of chart my course working with (ETSU President Brian) Noland and looking at what his vision is for ETSU and making sure that we collaborate and coordinate, and that’s why I think it’s so exciting.”
She is visiting all the various deans of the colleges and finding out what they do and what they would like to see happen with state and local officials.
“I think you’ve almost got to do that to kind of know your environment, and that’s the goal,” she said. “I’m planning to go down to Nashville next week to get to know most of the legislators. I know all of them from up here because I worked with them in a previous life.”
Baird also plans to meet students and faculty in order to get them involved.
Most schools or universities have a government relations liaison. Baird said this position is important to provide ETSU leaders with as much information and representation as possible, especially with dollars being difficult to come by.
Baird’s experience in government may help her in her new role, but she said her childhood on a dairy farm taught her plenty, too.
“It taught you a lot of responsibility,” she said. “And I think it was great growing up on a farm. It helped me understand the value of work.”