In Korea, starting from the 2nd grade in high school, students are divided into two groups according to what they want to major in: natural sciences/engineering or humanities. From then on, humanities course students only study basic math while natural sciences and engineering students study deeper into the fields of math and science. After students enter university, they mostly study subjects that are only related to their majors, so humanities course students become more alienated to math and science. Those who have not studied math or science for a few years may get a little tense because for this edition of Focus on UOS, I interviewed a Chemical Engineering professor. There are no complicated math equations or science terms, so do not turn the page!
On The UOS Times Facebook page, a UOS student suggested Professor Kim Hyo, a Chemical Engineering professor, as our next interviewee. The reason for this was that even though he could have taken a year off, Prof. Kim came back from his job as the Dean of Office of Student Affairs to teach again because he loves teaching students. The suggesting student also said that the professor always tries to put an effort into getting closer to his students. Prof. Kim majored in the Dept. of Chemical Engineering at the University of Seoul (UOS) and graduated in 1978.
As I had no knowledge of Chemical Engineering, I asked the professor if I could go and ask casual things before the interview. Prof. Kim accepted my request gladly. During the pre-interview, he did talk about difficult scientific principles. However, whenever I was frustrated by what he said, he offered easy and very specific examples.
Background information about the professor
Before coming to teach at UOS, he worked at Korea Gas Corporation (KGC), a state enterprise. KGC handles the gas that we use at home. After working at KGC, he went to Northwestern University and studied Fluid Mechanics, specifically ‘Applied Mass’ and ‘Chemical Engineering.’ After the professor came back from his studies, he researched and helped introduce the ‘Safety and Risk Assessment.’ In the 1980s, companies were busy only making profits and lives were being taken by accidents at the workplace. Lives lost meant losses to the work force, which was not at all good for companies. They had to recruit new workers and educate them. Therefore, companies brought in the ‘Gas Safety Management System (GSMS)’ as welfare for the workers and a benefit to themselves.
About the field of chemical engineering
He gave an easy example of Fluid Mechanics that he studied and now teaches. “Meteorology,” he avidly explained, “considers the liquidity of the fluid and the air. The weather is predicted by the ocean current, the flow of the air, etc. Even a little variable can bring unforeseeable circumstances. There is more than one variable affecting the weather, so the possibility of predicting the weather right is very low. Like this, in Chemical Engineering, you have to consider a lot of variables.”
When students who major in the Dept. of Chemical Engineering graduate, they usually go to companies that deal with fluids, such as gas. It is a very professional field. They are not treated as high-quality jobs, but they are paid very well. They deal with how to safely install the valves that carry fluids and minimize accidents at work sites that manage them. Like every other professor, Prof. Kim wants students to choose their career from a variety of job offers. In order to be offered good job choices, students have to acquire high-quality ability. Therefore, he strictly advises students to better build their abilities.
The professor's lecture
After the student who recommended the professor said he teaches ‘Fluid Mechanics,’ the pillar of Chemical Engineering, I was curious about his class. In addition, I started to wonder how the professor tries to get close to his students. To relieve my curiosity, I went to his Fluid Mechanics class to see what his teaching method is like.
I took a seat in the back of the class, not to bother the students and the professor. The professor started to call attendance. While calling out the students’ names, the professor asked personal questions such as, “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Why did you sit in the back?” “Did you get the temptation to go out on a picnic today?” He knew the characteristics of each student. This gave me the feeling that the professor was very close to his students. Calling attendance was like a conversation between the professor and his students.
When he was a young professor, he tried hard to get close to his students; buying them meals, going climbing and going to MTs (Membership Trainings) together. As he is older now, he tries to let the younger professors do the job of getting close to students. However, he still bears love for his students. Though he could have taken a year off after working as the Dean of students for two years, he missed his students and wanted to teach, so he came back without a rest.
When he opened his book and started his lecture, all the students stopped talking, opened their notes, and put all their attention to writing down what the professor was explaining. In every class, there are a few students who do something else or do not listen to the lecture. However, in this class everyone paid attention and tried to react to what the professor said. He had charisma. He said that he is the “dictator of the class.” The professor asked a question to a certain student, calling his or her name. He knew everyone’s name, so everybody had to be tense. He walked around the class and asked each student questions, and this kind of method seemed to motivate the students to focus in class and study hard.
During the pre-interview, Prof. Kim had said that the subject of Fluid Mechanics could be boring because it deals with math and a lot of numbers. However, his lecture was not boring at all. This was because he talked about casual things like his personal experience or asked about his students’ love lives. This made the class atmosphere light. It was kind of ironic that the class atmosphere was heavy and light at the same time. The professor was just strict enough to make the students focus, yet also just humorous enough to make the class enjoyable for students.
An interesting thing about Prof. Kim’s class
On Saturday of the week that the interview with Prof. Kim took place, the students taking his Fluid Mechanics class had a little test. Prof. Kim’s Fluid Mechanics test is an open-book test. Open-book? You may think that this test would be easy. What is interesting about it is that there was no time limit. ‘No time limit’ means that the students can take up until the next day to finish the test. Also, the students can get something to eat, even go out and take a nap during the test. These choices that the students can have during the test were given to them because the test is actually very difficult. In some way, this much freedom may frighten the students.
The interview with Prof. Kim was full of fascinating facts about chemical engineering and how it is applied to our every day lives. Not only during the interview but also in class, he kindly offered specific examples to help students understand what he is trying to explain. Prof. Kim showed humble aspects during the interview and rather strict and pleasant ones during the lecture. As mentioned above, Prof. Kim has many merits. If students get to know more about him, they will discover even more of his merits, just like when one peels an onion! He is a great professor to just talk to, even if you are not a Dept. of Chemical Engineering student. Why not say hello when you meet him around the campus?