"The undergraduate years are a turning point in students' lives"

"The undergraduate years are a turning point in students' lives"

Tilman Turpin, new director of the Reims campus
  • Tilman Turpin in September 2017 in Poitiers ©Sciences PoTilman Turpin in September 2017 in Poitiers ©Sciences Po

It was exactly 15 years ago that Tilman Turpin first discovered Sciences Po. “I really appreciated Sciences Po’s international dimension, multidisciplinary nature and the interaction with practitioners,” recalls Turpin, who had come to the university as an exchange student. He decided to stay for his Master’s study… and has been here ever since. After four years heading the Poitiers campus, Turpin has just taken up directorship of the campus in Reims.

“Constantly questioning everything”

“At Sciences Po, I discovered that nothing is inexplicable,” Turpin remarks. “That’s probably what struck me most: here you are constantly questioning everything. Absolutely nothing is obvious.” Turpin graduated from Sciences Po in 2005 with a Master’s degree in political theory. His beginnings as a member of Sciences Po staff were focused on teaching and research. Turpin taught political science at the Undergraduate College before doing a PhD on German identity and its relationship to history from 1945 to the present day. In 2009, he joined Sciences Po’s administration in the Admissions Office and then, a few months later, the Office of Academic Affairs. At the time he was an academic advisor in charge of political science and international relations courses. “It was in this school that I learned to structure an argument, summarize my ideas and hone a question down to a fundamental field,” he recalls.

In 2013, Turpin left the Paris campus to embark on his first adventure as campus director, in Poitiers. “I wanted to have more regular contact with the students,” the director explains. Poitier’s reputation as a slightly agitated campus didn’t scare him. Turpin sees it as actually more of a myth that the Poitiers students take pleasure in maintaining. “When I was appointed director, I was told ‘good luck in the land of the Castroists!’ In fact, that idea is not based in reality but in an identity that’s been bestowed. Our students have questions about the existing order and the world around them, that’s all. But they play on this image. For example at the Collégiades, they wave pictures of Che and slogans reading ‘hasta la victoria siempre’.”

“We have a vital role to play with undergraduate students”

In joining the Reims campus in October, he faces a completely different challenge: supporting the growth of a campus that is set to accommodate 1,600 students in 2019 and will become the largest campus of the Sciences Po Undergraduate College. “I love the undergraduate level because it’s a turning point in students’ lives. They grow up and seize their independence. And I think we have a vital role to play at this moment.”

Another sizeable mission will be to implement the Undergraduate College reform, which includes the establishment of a civic programme (PDF, 407 Ko). Each student will be involved in a project outside the university as well as at Sciences Po. Whether it’s the “Cordées de la réussite”*, the partnership with the Reims hospital to support sick children, or the Conservatoire as part of the DEMOS programme run by the Cité de la Musique, there are already many student initiatives at the local level, and the civic programme will be a chance to develop them further. This approach will ground the campus even more firmly in the city and strengthen its position as a cornerstone.

At his first meetings with campus partners and student associations, Turpin was able to see how central his role as Sciences Po’s institutional representative is to the campus-city relationship. Another discovery is the campus’s importance in the life of the city of Reims. “With an event a day, the campus plays a big part in keeping the city lively. At the moment we’re preparing for the Open Day on 25 November, where we expect more than 1,000 visitors. This will be my first big event in Reims.”

* "Cordées de la réussite" aims to promote young people's access to higher education, whatever their socio-cultural background, by giving them the means and drive to get into top academic programmeP

Photo: Students in Poitiers farewell Tilman Turpin with a round of applause at the Welcome ceremony in September 2017. Dr. Turpin took up directorship of the Reims campus in October.

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