Twenty-one Years Later: Reflections from the first cohort of Science Po’s International Programme
Tania Johnson, the Director of Sponsored Programs at Swarthmore College, had a long-time dream of living and studying in France. She had begun studying the language in middle school and high school, and as a French and International Relations major at the University of Pennsylvania, was “really grateful to have had the opportunity to study” at Sciences Po.
Johnson was one of the students in the first cohort of Sciences Po’s International Programme, an experience she describes as “really wonderful but definitely hard at times.” She adds, “being part of the first cohort was an honor, but there were some logistical and administrative challenges that came with being the first.” Today, she says, she is impressed with the way Sciences Po has grown in its support of international students. Though adapting to the challenges of living and studying in France took perseverance, Johnson believes her year in Paris was incredibly formative.
In the classroom, Johnson took almost all of her classes, including courses on the history and politics of France and a class on the European Union, in French, an experience that was “exhilarating and challenging at the same time.” Within a community of students from many different countries, she describes how “the American students formed a little tribe and provided support to one another.” She remembers “having a Friendsgiving, before it was even called that, at one of her classmate’s apartments for Thanksgiving.” Johnson lived on Rue de Verneuil, just a few steps from the home of the celebrated French singer Serge Gainsbourg, which was graffiti-covered as a sort of shrine to the singer. On the same street, she walked past the Hotel Verneuil, where she recently learned that James Baldwin used to stay while he was in France. Sciences Po’s location in the Seventh Arrondissement meant going to class was always enjoyable, Johnson adds; “In Paris, I could stroll for hours just walking and taking everything in.”
After earning her diplôme from Sciences Po, Johnson completed her senior year at Penn and graduated, cum laude. She then completed a master’s degree in Political Science with a Concentration in International Relations, again at Penn. After graduating, she began a job in grant writing for a small nonprofit in Philadelphia that refurbished medical equipment and supplies from local hospitals and sent it to Eastern European countries, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development. A year later, Johnson began a grants position at Swarthmore College, a small, highly selective liberal arts college right outside of Philadelphia, where she has now been for more than fifteen years.
In 2015, Johnson became the Director of Sponsored Programs, the office that supports faculty in securing and managing external funding for their research and scholarly work. She describes her passion for supporting faculty in all disciplines, though focusing primarily on supporting faculty in the natural sciences and engineering. Johnson’s favorite part of the job, she says, is “building up the capacity of the office and helping faculty to get the resources they need.” For the past seven years, she has been the project director of a grant from the National Institutes of Health to build the grants office’s capacity to support biomedical and biobehavioral research. “It’s been an amazing experience,” she adds, “But it has been challenging at times to manage a major change initiative.”
Johnson remains grateful to Sciences Po for developing the intellectual mindset she continues to use today. “Sciences Po was my first major introduction to serious interdisciplinary thinking,” she says. She remembers a particularly impactful geography course in Boutmy Hall that weaved together history, economics, politics, and many other disciplines. Sciences Po, says Johnson, “started me on a journey of very connected thinking. I am naturally that kind of thinker, and it helped to really hone those skills.”
When asked for her advice for Sciences Po students and recent graduates, Johnson shares a few insights. She reminds current students that “Sciences Po is indeed very rigorous, and you need to be diligent.” She adds, however, that students should make sure they take advantage of the arts and culture that is all around in Paris. She also encourages students in France to take advantage of Europe’s interconnectedness to travel internationally (when it’s safe). For recent graduates, Johnson encourages them to participate in the alumni network. It is incredibly valuable to be “part of this really special network that is so international,” she says. “Try to keep some kind of connection with Sciences Po.”