Sue Baker

Image caption: Sue Baker pioneered the field of injury prevention and has mentored generations of experts who followed in her footsteps.

Credit: Photograph by Chris Hartlove



A lot of people should be grateful to Sue Baker, SPH '68 (MPH), professor emerita at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

And with good reason: Beginning in the late 1960s, Baker, who is known as the mother of injury prevention, pioneered an entire scientific discipline dedicated to preventing injuries and blunting their effects, thereby improving—and saving—countless lives. Her research on automobile crashes fueled efforts by safety advocates to push for child car seat laws that have helped reduce the risk of infant deaths in car crashes by 71%.

As one of the main authors of a 1987 report that called on Congress to create a federal injury prevention agency, Baker played a central role in the establishment of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control—and of the nine Injury Control Research Centers it now helps fund. The Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy was among the first of these, and it remains one of the largest injury research and educational programs in the world, working to improve occupational, home, and transportation safety and to address violence and substance abuse.

And it wasn't just institutions that Baker helped to establish. As a mentor and teacher to multiple generations of injury prevention experts, she literally built the field from the ground up.

"She's like the Johnny Appleseed of the science," says Professor Emeritus Stephen P. Teret, SPH '79 (MPH), who worked with Baker for many years after taking her injury prevention course in his first semester. "She planted the seeds of injury prevention in the minds of so many people."

But the gratitude goes both ways. Baker has spent decades giving back to the university that has been her professional home since the 1960s—a home she shared with her husband, Timothy Baker, MD, who graduated from the School of Public Health in 1954 and served more than 50 years as a faculty member and professor there. Tim Baker died in 2013.

"I can't tell you how grateful I am to Johns Hopkins—not only for my 50-plus years on the faculty but for the enormous privilege of teaching such wonderful students," she says.

Sue and Tim Baker made a series of significant gifts to the School of Public Health focused on supporting students in areas ranging from injury prevention and gun control to international health. Their preferred instrument was the Johns Hopkins charitable gift annuity, or CGA, which provides a fixed stream of income for life to the donor and/or a loved one while ensuring that the remainder goes to the donor's designated purpose.

With assistance from the Office of Gift Planning, Baker recently established a creative mix of CGAs and a gift from her estate to support students involved in her latest initiative: Safety by Design. The initiative aims to make injury prevention an integral part of the design process for everything from consumer products to the built environment. It will also draw on the resources of the schools of Engineering and Medicine.

To get the ball rolling, Baker and colleagues from the schools of Medicine and Engineering introduced a new course, Killer Design, last spring. Students analyzed the risks posed by products ranging from snowblowers (amputation) to Venetian blinds (strangulation) and were invited to redesign them to be nonhazardous.

"At this point, my real passion is to get people who are designing anything man-made, whether it's a curbstone or a chandelier, to think early on in the game, 'I want to be sure this doesn't hurt anybody,'" Baker says. "Safety is something you should be thinking about from the beginning, rather than after people have been hurt."

Baker made sure that the terms of her gift were flexible enough to ensure that the funds in the Safety by Design Scholarship can be used for whatever students most need. She even decided to make an outright gift—donating the annual payments from a newly established CGA—to help cover operating expenses.

"The remaining funds will make it possible to carry on with Safety by Design when I'm no longer on the scene," she says. "But the current payments will provide some money for the program to work with every year."

Baker's gifts to Safety by Design are remarkable considering what she and her husband have already given to the School of Public Health in both service and support.

But from Baker's perspective, it's the least she can do.

"I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Johns Hopkins," she says. "And this is one way of trying to repay a little bit of that."

This story was adapted from "Change the World, Baker," published in the Spring 2020 issue of Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine.