Asia Trip Day Two: Connecting with Alumni, Parents and Students in Korea

This is my second visit to the bustling city of Seoul, and each time I find it full of polite and friendly people.  It is the land of Samsung, LG,  and Hyundai –  industrial giants that emerged just 60 short years since the Korean War, a testament to industriousness and discipline in the face of adversity.

We had the opportunity to visit EWHA Woman’s University, a women-only university founded by Methodist missionaries back in 1886, one year after Georgia Tech was established in Atlanta. I was impressed. This institution has 23,000 students covering all undergraduate, graduate and professional fields (engineering, medicine and law included). The campus is built on a hill; part of it literally into the hill, and it is notably well put together. The underground complex is an extraordinary architectural and engineering achievement.

Although EWHA has a liberal arts focus, the similarities to Georgia Tech in structure, staffing and size are many. One of those similarities is the large presence of industrial partners. One of which, known very well to us, is Solvay who has co-located a large and beautiful research operation on campus, headed by the father of one of our students!

Georgia Tech has been home to many Koreans, and many have made Atlanta their home after graduation.  Others are residents in Korea - the alumni/ae group is now about 400+ strong. Many of them, together with newly admitted students and parents joined us for a reception the evening of July 21st. It was a great evening, made possible through the generosity of our host Dr. Jong-Hyun Kim, a loyal alumnus, PhD ‘90; the convening power of Mr. Soo Jin Chung, IE’75, MS’77 of whom I wrote about in my last blog; the wonderful translation services of our very own Christina Choi, assistant professor of Industrial Design at Georgia Tech, who happened to be in town; and the invaluable multifaceted help of Jamee Lee ICS ’88, an early pioneer graduate of computer science.

Jamee is one of an extraordinary family of Georgia Tech graduates that span Atlanta and Seoul. A very quick count yielded about eight Georgia Tech graduates between husband (Myunghee), son (Jay), siblings, uncles, cousins, etc! This Georgia Tech family has come together and established the Kim-Young Kim Endowment for scholarships at Georgia Tech.

If one thing was obvious from the evening is that the love, pride and concern about the well being of children is the same in every culture!  For parents and young students, excitement about the future and the college experience comes with unavoidable anxiety. Being able to hear from these parents and students are the type of experiences that make me very happy of having chosen a career in academia.

There were many questions, but one in particular addressed an ongoing issue we struggle with at Georgia Tech. An alum and parent of a Georgia Tech student asked: “Why does Georgia Tech have to be so hard? Students work so hard that after graduation they do not want to study anymore!” 

The key here is the difference between rigor and the learning experience. Last spring, our student leadership asked the same question. They weren’t seeking an “easy path” or less rigorous studies, but were questioning a few practices and culture that can make learning unpleasant.

Although this is not prevalent, it is real at times. In response to their concerns, I appointed a Task Force on the Learning Environment, co-chaired by ME Chair Dr. Bill Wepfer and Dean of Science Dr. Paul Goldbart. They have been charged with assessing our instructional environment and making recommendations to ensure Georgia Tech students continue to get rigorous, uncompromising instruction, grounded in a commitment to a culture of civility and respect.  

It’s been another great day in Asia, and I look forward to continuing my travels here. 

- Rafael L. Bras

Photos above:

(1) From left:  Dr. Bras visits with EWHA faculty including Mr. Sangyoung Song (center), Ms. Marta Garcia, associate vice president of international development, and Mr. Shelton Chan, managing director, development, Asia Pacific

(2) On the evening of July 21st, a reception was held in honor of Georgia Tech alumni living or visiting Korea, parents of alumni and incoming students, and other friends of the Institute. 

(3) An industrial partnership with Solvay is something Georgia Tech and EWHA Woman's University have in common.  Solvay has co-located a large and beautiful research operation on EWHA's campus, headed by the father of a Georgia Tech student. 

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  • Seoul EWHA Site Visit 2015

  • Seoul Alumni Reception Group 2015

  • Seoul Solvay Research Facility - EWHA 2015

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