Bailey Johnson ’21 has a gift for being where she needs to be to meet her goals.
Starting in August 2022, that will be Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. There she’ll join the newest class of Schwarzman Scholars, pursuing a master’s degree in global affairs. Johnson is among 151 scholars in nearly three dozen countries, chosen from more than 3,000 applicants worldwide for the all-expenses-covered graduate leadership program.
Schwarzman Scholars are “high-caliber individuals with open minds and limitless potential who will serve to deepen understanding between China and the rest of the world,” according to the group’s website.
Johnson fits the bill. She’s already working as a cancer researcher for the National Institutes of Health, chiefly focused on understanding metastatic traits that allow tumor cells to colonize secondary organs. She also is a fellow at the NIH Academy on Health Disparities, studying gaps in health outcomes and addressing related issues.
Classes for Schwarzman Scholars are taught in English, but Johnson brings the advantage of fluency in Mandarin – a language she started learning as a child in Columbus, Ohio. She refined those skills at Mary Washington, where she double-majored in biology and a self-designed course of Chinese cultural studies.
At UMW she was seemingly indefatigable, joining the Student Government Association, the African Student Union and the Asian Student Association. She was also a resident assistant for four years, competed in track and field as a first-year student and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity building homes in Florida. In addition, she founded a STEM mentoring program for children in underserved communities.
Johnson intentionally sought out Mary Washington peers with international backgrounds for one-on-one conversations. “Their cultural experiences, unlike my own, helped me see global issues through a different lens and the need for this understanding to make a real difference,” she said.
She formed lasting friendships with several students: Olayemi Fadahunsi ’21, who shared her knowledge of Nigeria; Chase Forster ’21, who is a Fulbright recipient teaching English in Bulgaria; and Burundian native Nehemia Abel ’20, who is a Payne graduate fellow at Georgetown University.
Most notably, Johnson worked with the Center for International Education (CIE) to complete a semester in Xian, China, where courses included intensive language studies and traditional Chinese medicine.
“My time there solidified my goal to turn my life experiences, language education, and sciences and health background into something more global, ultimately merging health, politics, economics and culture,” Johnson recalled.
Mary Washington professors helped her develop her interests in the sciences, in politics and policy, in international relations – and in clear, professional writing. They provided advocacy and “extra tough love,” she said.
Among them are Associate Professor of Chemistry Leanna Giancarlo, CIE director and Associate Professor of Spanish Jose Sainz and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Elizabeth Freund Larus. Professor of Spanish Betsy Lewis and Adjunct Instructor of Chinese Pei-ni Causarano also helped. Plus, Johnson described Assistant Professor of Biology Josephine Antwi as “a great teacher, mentor and advisor for my research project.”
The admiration is mutual. Several UMW professors reacted to this week’s announcement of Johnson’s award with little surprise.
“She is a wonderful person and was a great student. So glad for her,” Lewis said. Professor of Biology Deborah O’Dell echoed that sentiment: “She exemplifies the qualities that we hold dear at UMW.”
Johnson’s goal? “My future work will include shaping a research agenda between China and the United States,” she said, “stimulating the generation, translation and dissemination of valuable knowledge.”