Ewha University president focuses on making leaders

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Ewha University president focuses on making leaders

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Kim Sun-uk, President of Ewha Womans University

On the right side of the Ewha Womans University main entrance sits the Ewha Welcome Center, which just opened in May for tourists and others visiting the university.

A key part of the center includes the Ewha People section, a space that highlights the many firsts accomplished by Ewha’s alumnae over the school’s 127-year history.

Among those illustrious alumnae there is Korea’s first female lawyer, Lee Tai-young, the first female prime minister, Han Myung-sook, the first female Constitutional Court justice, Jeon Hyo-sook, the first female vice president of Samsung Group, Choi In-ah, and the first female FIFA referee, Hong Eun-ah.

“You can just follow the path that someone else has taken before, but it is much more difficult to become the first one in a field, as you have to create a new path,” said 61-year-old Kim Sun-uk, president of Ewha Womans University. “The path that Ewha has taken is the history of women in Korea.”

Kim should know - before becoming president she served as Korea’s first female legislation minister, from 2005 to 2007.

Q. It is the age of gender equality. Why do we need a women’s university?

A. We have a female president and the number of women passing civil service exams is increasing. At first glance, it may seem that men and women are treated equally. However, still there is an invisible glass ceiling, especially in the legal circles.

More than 40 percent of those who pass the bar exam are women. Women are never second to men when assessed by their skills. However, in large law firms only 20 percent of the lawyers are women.

That means there are invisible criteria other than skills and grades. Until our society becomes more equal, we need a university that develops women leaders.

What are the differences between Ewha Womans University and other women’s universities?

Ewha is equipped with all the majors that help women enter society, including law school, medical school, a college of education and a college of art and music. I tell high school students if they want to go to college they can go to any college, but if they want to become a female leader they should choose Ewha Womans University.

Our goal is to develop the confidence that a woman can also do anything she wants to and the adventurous spirit to challenge seemingly impossible tasks. Ewha has raised many women leaders. In the future, we need to create talented women who can play an active part in society by taking charge of half of society, along with men, in each field.

It seems there are many alumni who take active roles in every field.

Every morning, I read articles in the newspapers about the graduates of Ewha Womans University. Just today there were articles about Professor Baek Jin-soon of Dongguk University, fashion designer Yang Yu-na in New York and Professor Lee Nam-jun at Seoul National University Hospital, famous in the field of liver transplantation. They are all alumnae of Ewha Womans University.

Ewha University is preparing to introduce a residential college system in 2015. With the start of testing this fall, we will divide all 3,200 first-year students in half, with each half taking turns living in the dorms each semester.

To this end, Ewha is building dormitories to accommodate 1,800 students on campus. In January, professors and students of Ewha toured residential colleges in the U.S. and England.

What is the reason for creating a residential college?

It is to educate and raise the community spirit. Also, I thought if students started college life by living in a dorm for one semester in their first year, they would be able to spend the rest of their four years more meaningfully.

Residential colleges are not just living spaces. They are places where students can learn about community spirit and leadership by spending time together with professors and senior students, as well as having classes together.

We even reorganized the general education curricula for the first year, to help develop personality education. The leadership course, where students directly participate in volunteer activities, the reading classical literature course and the writing course were made compulsory.

It seems that you emphasize the social responsibility of universities

As I was inaugurated, the slogan I emphasized was non nobis solum, which means “not for ourselves alone” in Latin. Women’s leadership is the leadership of service and sharing. Ewha has grown as a university, starting from one foreign missionary.

Now we need to practice sharing. Since 2006, we have been operating Ewha Global Partnership Program in which we educate female students in developing countries, providing scholarships and living expenses. So far, 154 students from 33 countries have enrolled.

Last year, we began the Ewha Global Empowerment Program, inviting female leaders from nongovernmental organizations in the Asia and Africa regions. Since 2007, Ewha has operated a master’s course for female civil servants together with the Korea International Cooperation Agency. After a few years, I expect there will be an Ewha family in all countries of the world.

There have been many achievements in the international division.

We established the international summer school in 1971 and the Division of International Studies in 2001, both firsts for a Korean university. Since 2006, Ewha has been operating the Ewha-Harvard Summer School Program, combining our summer semester with Harvard University. Students can take classes from Harvard faculty members in Korea. Our goal is to become the global hub of female education.

Ewha Womans University succeeded in attracting the research and development center for the chemical center of the Belgium-based multinational chemical company Solvay in 2011.

Solvay plans to build a laboratory on campus at a cost of $21.5 million, conducting research with Ewha Womans University on solar cells, semiconductors and displays.

Last year, it attracted a research team from the Institute for Basic Science, which will cost 100 billion won ($89.3 million) over the next 10 years.

There is a prejudice that the science and engineering divisions at women’s universities are weak

The rate of undergraduate enrollment in graduate school, 22.7 percent, is much higher than the average 7.7 percent rate of private colleges. Ewha, which became the first women’s university in the world to establish an engineering college in 1996, has much interest in science and engineering.

Since 2011, we began the Ewha Global Top 5 Project. We plan to invest 10 billion won in promising areas over three years to raise those fields to world-class levels by the year 2020. As Madame Curie was the first women to win the Nobel Prize by discovering radium, our goal is to turn out the second Madame Curie from Ewha.

Many say that universities are facing a time of crisis.

While Korea’s economy is the world’s Top 10, the level of its universities is far below that. In the past, universities led the development of the society, but at some point, universities could not keep up to the speed of society’s changes. With the efforts of universities, the Ministry of Education should give a little more autonomy. Currently, the ministry applies standards that are too uniform. The diverse talents needed in society can be developed better by universities when there is autonomy.


BY KIM NAM-JOONG, LEE HAN-GIL [kjy@joongang.co.kr]

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