University of Pittsburgh

Shin-Bok Kim (GSPIA ’72, EDUC ’73G)

University leader

Portrait of Kim Shin-Bok

Photo credit: Jeong Yi

At Pitt: Kim earned both a master’s in public and international affairs and a PhD in education—in just two and a half years.

In South Korea: He championed educational reform and excellence, becoming the first at Seoul National University to hold the positions of provost and executive vice president; and, as the government’s vice minister of education, he reorganized vocational colleges and collaborated to hire more teachers and build more classrooms.

 

When he arrived at the University of Pittsburgh, Shin-Bok Kim felt like he didn’t have even a minute to waste. It was 1971, a year the Pirates won the World Series, but the studious young man didn’t attend a single game. He had come all the way from South Korea to earn a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and he aimed to get the most he could from the two-year program.

At Pitt, Kim did what he had done while in college back home—he studied, studied, and then studied more, sometimes for 14 hours a day. When new challenges emerged, he faced them head-on. Eager to participate in classes, for instance, the scholar, who was still working to perfect his English, spent his nights carefully scripting and memorizing his comments so that he could clearly recite them the next day.

He threw himself into studying the role of education in economic development, the subject he says most fascinated him, and savored time spent with fellow students discussing ideas and collaborating across disciplines. As his understanding of his area of study broadened, Kim decided to simultaneously pursue an additional graduate degree at Pitt, this one a PhD in education.

“I had ambition,” Kim recalls.

He was used to hard work and determination long before arriving at Pitt. In South Korea, Kim grew up the son of a principal who served a school in a small island farming community. The Korean War, however, devastated the island’s resources, and nearly forced the school to close. The situation made Kim’s father even more determined to give his son the opportunity for a better education. In 1957, when he was 12 years old, Kim was sent to the mainland to attend school in Mokpo, a city by the Yellow Sea.

For six years, Kim lived in a room by himself in a private dormitory. His father visited every month, bringing with him high expectations for the boy’s academic success.

Kim wanted to make his father proud. He was a high-achieving student and his grades earned him a place at Seoul National University (SNU). He left Mokpo and moved 200 miles to the capital city to study education, his tuition exempted by the government, he says, as part of a program to expand the country’s teaching corps.

At the time, Kim dreamed he would finish college, return to Mokpo, and become the superintendent of a local school district. He thought he would be content to advance a few professional levels above his father’s educational career.

Then, Pitt called.

A dean at SNU noticed Kim’s exceptional work as a student and recommended that he study at Pitt, a school with which the South Korean university had recently launched a cooperative partnership in the areas of public administration, education, and the social sciences. With a scholarship from the United States Agency for International Development, Kim boarded his first international flight and came to Pittsburgh.

Just two and a half years later, Kim earned both a master’s degree from GSPIA and a doctorate from the School of Education. It was an impressive feat, but merely a prelude to the accomplishments still to come.

Returning home to South Korea, Kim embarked on an influential and wide-ranging career in education. He worked with the Korean Educational Development Institute and the Presidential Commission on Education Reform, and served as a vice minister of education and human resource development for South Korea’s national government. He focused on educational reform and developed proposals and partnerships that led to a rise in vocational colleges, a reduction in public school class sizes, the hiring of more teachers, the strengthening of teacher training requirements, and the implementation of technology and TV/radio broadcasts to tutor rural students.

Kim also spent 35 years at SNU where, at one point, he was executive vice president and provost, the only person in the school’s history to hold both positions for four years. His responsibilities included student affairs, facilities, faculty, and personnel.

Kim is retired today—lecturing and serving on the board of Gachon University. Looking back at the role his education played in his long and luminous career, he says, “My time at Pitt made me a leader.”

Amid a lifetime of hard work and determination, those whirlwind two and half years of intense study and exploration in Pittsburgh helped Kim deliver new opportunities to students across South Korea.