Why did you choose your career path?
In 1969, I was born in Chulwon, South Korea, very close to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). At that time, the GDP per capita of South Korea was around $1,500 – below that of current Congo in Africa ($1,794 in 2017). Then, Korean President Park Chung-hee had pronounced on TV that technology is a unique way to survive in this world since we as Koreans do not have any natural resources other than human resources. This touched my mind and was a chance for me to change my dream to become a scientist. In high school and college, I liked any field of study, such as math and biology, which always gave correct and clear answers without vague conclusions. Since my major was microbial engineering in graduate school, I had real interest in fermentation and purification (microbes never complain, they are free to get and can give high value-added products by using steam and electricity). Therefore, I decided to work in a pharmaceutical company for eight years as a senior researcher for developing/screening novel compounds, resulting from fermentations. Finding new bioactive compounds is one of the best work subjects for me and can lead to the development of solutions for patients and unhealthy people. Then I joined the Hannam University in Korea to transfer all my experience to young Koreans.
What do you like best about working at FSU?
FSU is well organized … and also very open and keen to collaborate with local communities and industries, especially in the department of chemistry and food science. This environment gives me the opportunity to think of two essential things: time preference and future value. Sharing the information and global networking is necessary to survive in the modern world situation. Since we have different resources and cultural backgrounds in South Korea and USA, it is very important to establish the way of collaborating for the best future of both countries. No matter what we have or don’t have, we will face many similar challenges in the near future, such as resource depletion, weather changes, pollution, etc. Therefore, it is essential for the current generation to well understand each other and share resources/knowledge/technology together. … I have learned and will do my best to find a way to address these challenges through teaching and interacting with the young generation of U.S. students here at FSU.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Of course, it is my family, my wife and two sons, who are a graceful gift from God. Furthermore, I have two important accomplishments in my life. One is my Ph.D. completion at UMass Amherst, and the other is the receipt of the Fulbright Scholarship. Getting a Ph.D. in the U.S. was a challenge for me as an Asian student coming from a poor country. The award of the Fulbright Scholarship was a great honor and reward for the hard work over the past years from both myself and close collaborators.
Do you have any advice for students who are considering STEM majors?
I do not know why the young generation is a little hesitant about STEM majors. To study STEM, students do not need strong memory power or to deal with complicated machines, as most of them think. Since, for the young generation, it is very easy to understand and use smart phones such as iPhone and Galaxy, most equipment related to STEM is much easier to operate than these phones, and I am confident that the young generation of students can easily adapt to them. We do not need to remember all the textbooks and references in STEM, but spend more time to learn how to apply the existing knowledge and principles. Since I was able to succeed in the field of STEM, I am confident that all young generation students have better potential and a stronger foundation than me to succeed in this field.
[Editor’s Note: This Gatepost interview was conducted via email.]