To celebrate a career that has spanned the newsroom and the courtroom, Nannette Baker (JEM ’78) was honored with the 2019 Donald G. Hileman Distinguished Alumni Award at the CCI 50th Anniversary Gala on October 11 at the Knoxville Convention Center.
The Hileman Award, established in 1994, is the highest alumni award presented annually by the college.
Baker began her career as a broadcast journalist before making an about-face and entering the legal profession. Today she serves as chief magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis.
Baker was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to parents who were educators. Her father was on the faculty at Tuskegee Institute until she was five, when the family moved to Liberia as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development effort to establish teacher training schools. Her mother homeschooled her for the five years they were in Liberia.
Baker graduated from the College of Communications in 1978 and spent 13 years as a television news reporter, anchor, and talk show host in Knoxville, Memphis, and St. Louis.
In the early 1990s, Baker decided to shift careers. After graduating from the St. Louis University School of Law in 1994, she served as a judicial law clerk for Odell Horton, a federal judge in Memphis. She worked as a defense lawyer with the St. Louis firm Lashly & Baer and later moved to Schlichter Bogard & Denton, where she represented railroad workers who had suffered on-the-job injuries.
In 1999, Baker became a circuit court judge in the City of St. Louis. Five years later, she moved to the Missouri Court of Appeals, becoming the first African American woman to serve as chief judge of the Court of Appeals in 2008. She was appointed to the federal court in 2011.
Baker is a board member of many legal societies and has received numerous accolades. She has served as a member of the UT Alumni Association’s Board of Governors and the CCI Board of Visitors. She received UT Knoxville’s Alumni Professional Achievement Award in 2016.
About the Donald G. Hileman Award
The Donald G. Hileman Distinguished Alumni Award is named for the first permanent dean of the College of Communications, forerunner to the College of Communication and Information. The award was established in 1994 in celebration of the college’s 25th anniversary and honors college alumni who have made notable contributions to the fields of communication and information.
Past recipients of the Hileman Award include: Stephen Land, Founder and CEO of Jupiter Entertainment; Cather Ackermann, President and CEO of Ackermann Public Relations and Marketing; Mark McNeely, founder and senior partner of McNeely Pigott and Fox and partner of McNeely Brockman Public Relations; Sharon Price John, CEO and president of Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc.; Charles Tombras Jr., CEO of Tombras; Alexia Poe, principal at Poe Consulting and former director of communications for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; Alan Wilson, McCormick & Company Inc. chairman (retired); Alan N. Greenberg, president and co-founder of Avenues the World School and former Esquire magazine publisher; John Noble Wilford, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times science journalist (retired); and Peyton Manning, former NFL and UT quarterback.