Sahmyook University’s new president wants students to ‘brighten the world’

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Sahmyook University’s new president wants students to ‘brighten the world’


Sahmyook University President Kim Il-mok, recently appointed to the office in an online inauguration ceremony, sits for an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. [CHOI JEONG-DONG]

While all universities in Korea have delayed the start of their new school semesters, that hasn’t stopped Sahmyook University from inaugurating its new president, who sees the pandemic as an opportunity to explore new teaching methods and address persistent issues at the university.

President Kim Il-mok, 60, officially began his four-year term during a recent online inauguration ceremony. The university, located in Nowon District, northern Seoul, has since resumed classes online.

Kim recently sat for an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo to discuss his approach to the problems posed by the outbreak.

During his inauguration, Kim summed up his guiding philosophy for the next four years: “Form sincere relationships, brighten the world.”

Kim said he expects Sahmyook University students to cultivate their talents as well as compassion. Volunteer work is already given priority in students’ lives, and Sahmyook students responded to the coronavirus outbreak by starting a fund to provide masks for those in need.

Armed with innovative teaching methods and a compassionate approach to social issues, Kim must now steer the university across tuition freezes, years of declining student enrollment and what are likely to be lasting impacts to higher education from the pandemic.

The following are edited excerpts from the interview.

Q. Your recent inauguration ceremony was held online. How else is the university currently responding to the outbreak?

The health and safety of the students is the utmost priority. We have established headquarters that deal with all issues pertaining to the coronavirus and have adopted preventative measures across the campus. Not only the inauguration, but faculty conferences and the new student orientation have been conducted online. Of course, all classes are run via online lectures as well.

Many universities have encountered major stumbling blocks, given the abrupt shift to online classes.

I see the outbreak as accelerating the shift to online digital education. Our university is currently employing the “MVP teaching method” as a model for all the online lectures [where “MVP” stands for mission, vision and passion].

Our online classes are organized so that students review the lectures on their own and are prepared to have discussions about the concepts with other students and the professor during class time. This is known as the flipped learning method, [commonly explained as school work at home and home work at school]. We are also the first university to use virtual reality technology for the clinical training exercises in physical therapy classes. We will start using this technology this semester.

It was mentioned during the inauguration ceremony that being a president of a university is backbreaking work.

Not only has student enrollment been declining, but tuition levels have been frozen for the last 10 years. The university is in a severe financial condition. A solution to this is to set aside greater funds for university development. Usually, during the course of a year, around 3 billion won ($2.5 million) is required. […] We are also planning on attracting students from the United States by setting up scholarship funds.

You donated 125 million won to the university’s development funds during your inauguration.

I felt that I should devote myself to the cause when the university itself is undergoing such a difficult moment. While it may not be a large amount, I hope that this initial donation will attract further donations.

Can you go into more depth by about having students become figures that will “brighten the world?”

For the past 114 years since the university’s founding, our aim has been to educate students so they make truth and compassion a fundamental part of their lives. For example, students at our university are required to take a course called “Regional Social Charity.” This year, students used 3D printing technology to make personal sculptures for students at a university for the blind. Sahmyook students gifted these sculptures as graduation portraits you can see with your hands. This is just one example of how students can brighten the world.

Innovation is a major topic of conversation at the university. What kind of innovations do you have planned?

Traditionally, Sahmyook University’s strengths lie in the medical industry. But in the future, I want the university to do away with the educational partitions and give students greater liberty to pursue their interests. An interdisciplinary education is one approach that the university is taking. Take for instance the “The Hallyu Content” interdisciplinary major. This major blends courses from the Global Korean Studies, the design and the nutritional sciences departments so that students can understand and meet the rise in internationally popular Korean media and culture.

Do you have any plans to address the changes that are coming with the fourth industrial revolution?

We believe that every student must be equipped to become a leader in the fourth industrial revolution, regardless of his or her major. As a result, we have created the SU Innovation Academy, which comprises classes on information and technology, business, big data, artificial intelligence and so forth - all with an eye toward the fourth industrial revolution. Any student can take classes from this department, no matter their major. In other words, more than having students develop a specialization in a specific niche, we want students to develop expertise in the field by getting actively involved with different theories and technologies.

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