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Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe
While even the most casual visitor will be familiar with the fact that Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe, few are perhaps aware that the city also hosts another higher education institution that's a centre of excellence for graduate studies and a hotbed for future players in the world of global policies: The Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Europe.
“SAIS Europe, or The Bologna Center as it used to be called, was founded in 1955, twelve years after the main Johns Hopkins SAIS campus opened in Washington DC,” explains Kathryn Knowles, Director of Public Affairs here in Bologna as well as the Associate Director of the school’s European and Eurasian Studies program on both sides of the Atlantic. The city was chosen, as well as for its academic pedigree, due to the founder, Professor C. Grove Haines' personal friendship with the dean of Bologna University, with the aim of providing students with a stimulating international environment in which to study and fostering collaboration between future leaders. The current site at the heart of the university district was inaugurated a few years later in 1961 inclusive of a well-stocked library thanks to US government funding, granted with the proviso that it should remain open to the public, as it still is today.
“Interaction with local students and the community as a whole has in fact been encouraged from the start,” continues Knowles, who herself is a long-term resident of the city and SAIS graduate, “although teaching is all in English, we provide pre-term courses in Italian, both full-immersion and survival level so that new students can make the most of their time here; our students join local soccer teams, choirs and other groups and each academic year kicks off with a lecture by Bologna University professor Anna Cavina on the secret charme of Bologna.”
Knowles’ team is responsible for organising the seminars held in English at 6.30pm each Monday and Thursday evening, free of charge and open to the public, in the top-floor Penthouse room, which has superb views over Bologna's historic centre. “We have a lot of high profile guests, both academics and professionals –even ECB President Mario Draghi- speaking on a wide range of subjects including international economy, constitutional reform and human rights.”
Students embarking on an MA in International Affairs may take either their first year in Bologna – as Knowles did – or their second. Here at SAIS Europe there are around 200 students from 40 countries, 50% are from the US, and the core academic staff includes just 8 resident professors. “We have a large number of other, adjunct professors, some from the University of Bologna but also from other parts of Italy and further afield including Oxford and Vienna, who come in once a week or fortnight to teach,” Knowles points out. “In addition, we're in continuous contact with our Washington campus, and there's a lot of transatlantic teaching – this, like the on-site small-group seminars, is based on continuous interaction between staff and students.”
With a hands-on director in Michael G. Plummer - an economist and Asia specialist who's worked with high-level organisations such as the UN, OECD and the World Trade Organisation, acted as advisor for various governments and taught at a dozen universities world-wide - students at SAIS Europe have the best possible lead to follow. Coming from an Italian background, Plummer is also a fluent speaker of the language so is able to make a concrete contribution to local community relations.
“All our students end up as both competent linguists and experts in the global economy,” explains Knowles, “and our career services, led by Amanda Dumsch, facilitate internships, both locally and elsewhere in the world as well as visits to potential employers. “It's important to stress that we're not an employment agency,” adds Dumsch, “but we try to help the students get an idea of potential fields that are open to them, introducing them to careers they may not have considered.”
The list of prominent Johns Hopkins SAIS alumni is like a who's who of world influencers – ministers of foreign affairs in Peru and Holland, a former US secretary of the treasury, the director of current affairs at the BBC and even a Nobel peace prize winner to name but a few.
Originally from San Francisco, Knowles was headed for a career as a US foreign service economic officer after completing her MA from Johns Hopkins SAIS but the lure of Bologna – and her future husband, who's a local osteopath – brought her back to Italy 16 years ago. “I've noticed big changes to the city since I first arrived,” she says, “it's really opened up and become a lot more international.” She enjoys being a part of an international community and is also active in the Bologna-based International Women's Forum. “The quality of life is exceptional she adds, “I love being able to walk or bike everywhere and, especially since my son, Jackson, was born just over a year ago I appreciate the work-life balance and the importance of family here in Italy.”
And while Knowles has in some ways come to feel more Italian than American by now (“I've become a real Italian mamma!”), her colleague Amanda Dumsch is a new arrival, still rather in awe of her surroundings and taking photos wherever she goes: “I'm just finding it all so picturesque! And I love the fact that, despite having the atmosphere of a big, bustling city Bologna seems so liveable.”
Petrarch, as quoted on much of the Johns Hopkins SAIS Europe literature, summed the feeling up perfectly: we arrived at Bologna; there is no place more pleasant and free in the whole world.