Ewha’s 17th President Kim Eun-mee has now been in office for three months since her inauguration ceremony on Feb. 26. To inquire how she has been spending her first semester and what her future plans are, Ewha Voice and The Ewha Weekly conducted a joint interview with President Kim at her reception room on May 25.
How has it been since the start of your official term in March? Have there been any unexpected incidents?
This building we are in (Main Hall) is over 80 years old as it is one of the first buildings built in 1935 when Ewha moved from Jeong-dong to Sinchon. So, the office I am using now is the same office the teachers have been using since then. When I first came into this room, I felt the weight of Ewha’s history. Aware that everyone in the past and present was watching me, I was determined to work hard.
Unfortunately, as soon as my term started, the number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeded 500, and the virus was starting to spread among students in Sinchon. There were also confirmed cases at our school that led to some students having to be placed in quarantine. It was on the evening of March 30 when I became alerted of this and decided to form an emergency planning committee. For the safety of all school members, we decided to close the campus for two weeks from March 31 to April 16 and switch to full- scale online classes. During that time, 26 students were quarantined in the dormitories and 31 students were quarantined at home. I sent them packages that contained cookies I had baked and a handwritten letter with an encouraging message to hang in there.
These days, I am endeavoring to communicate with various school members. I have individually met with the deans of departments, the head of the graduate school, and the chiefs of major offices to explain the development plan for Ewha. I met students from the emergency planning committee as well. By interacting with various members, I have been trying to build trust and become acquainted with them.
In addition, I started external activities by meeting alumni who have made sizable donations. As the vice chairman of the Korean National Commission for UNESCO, a position that I have recently been appointed to, I plan to pursue more activities beyond Ewha as well.
What are you focusing on right now?
The task I am focusing on is the Ewha development plan. It takes time to accumulate money, persuade the members of the school, and receive external help. I diligently prepared for the development plan in early February. After being appointed to office in March, I immediately started working on this plan with the school members and created the development plan draft in early April. Now, it is complete. As the big plan looks toward 2030, it is named “Ewha Vision 2030+.” The plus next to 2030 denotes my hope for the plan to last beyond 2030. The year 2030 is also meaningful to me because it is the year the UN plans to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The mission of “Ewha Vision 2030+” is identical with the school’s charter: fostering female leaders under the Christian spirit and the ideals of truth, goodness, and beauty. Its vision is to become a creative and innovative platform that leads a sustainable society. The three core values are “Inspiring Ewha,” “Interacting Ewha,” and “Integrating Ewha.”
The plan consists of five goals, which are as follows: 1. Fostering a creative research ecosystem for world-class performance; 2. Building an educational innovation platform responding to digital transformation; 3. Strengthening support for students’ future plans and improving the campus environment; 4. Reinforcing administration efficiency and fiscal health; and 5. Spreading the E(wha)-Culture of sympathy and consideration.
At the Ewha Womans University 135th Anniversary Commemoration on May 31, “Ewha Vision 2030+” will be announced and put into practice.
President Kim’s dedication to the educational development in Ewha
We heard that you are planning to launch a team that manages and plans research and development (R&D) to enhance Ewha’s education and research capacity. What kind of work will the team perform and what would you like to ultimately achieve through it?
BK21 (Brain Korea21), a project conducted by the National Research Foundation of Korea, is vital in ranking universities and raising their reputations. Since our results were not very satisfying last year, I thought about what we could do better and came to the conclusion that the Office of Research should not oversee research single-handedly. Therefore, a team managing and planning R&D will be formed under the name “Presidential Commission” to show that I, the president, am willing to come forward. To be specific, I want to strategically plan research funding and establish a support system throughout the team. Additionally, it will carry out a project called “Frontier 10-10” that directs and supports a total of 20 areas of research. Ten of the studies conducted by Ewha professors will be those that received global recognition, while the remaining ten will be from the field of future development.
Along with cultivating graduate-oriented research capabilities, how are you approaching the development of undergraduate education? What are some projects in preparation to strengthen undergraduate education?
The undergraduate and graduate school are interrelated and create a virtuous circle. If the graduate school succeeds, so does the undergraduate, and vice versa. When the best researchers become professors, they will be able to teach students about cutting-edge research.
Moreover, AI-related knowledge is necessary in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To keep pace with the era, the Department of AI Convergence will be created in 2022. This plan started with the former president Kim Hei-sook and has been approved by the Ministry of Education. Some universities in South Korea have already made departments related to AI, so Ewha needs to catch up. However, to take a few steps further, I am planning on establishing a “college” of AI in 2023. This is in the final phase of approval with the Ministry of Education, which will mark Ewha as the first university in South Korea to form such a college.
Amid COVID-19, many students are having a hard time in class. Do you have plans to improve the educational environment and infrastructure?
The importance of online education will continue even in the post-COVID-19 era, when the situation improves and everyone is vaccinated. When turning to online education, not only have there been alterations to the content of lectures but also changes in the physical hardware. Thus, the school will continue to build active learning classes and online learning spaces like the new Ewha-POSCO Building Online Learning Space. Also, the reconstruction and remodeling of the Hakgwan is underway, where an interior design that reflects online education is being implemented. When completed next year, it will become a future-oriented space with classrooms and studios optimized for the online environment such as facilities for filming lectures.
After reading a news article in The Ewha Weekly, I learned that students are struggling in classes due to various problems that arise on CyberCampus. When I became aware of the situation, I analyzed the causes and tried to respond correspondingly. This was necessary in order to prevent future problems like CyberCampus crashing during the upcoming final exams, which more students will be taking compared to the midterm. The management system of CyberCampus is complex and involves many offices. I have made sure the Office of Faculty and Academic Affairs and the Office of Information and Communications work together to simulate CyberCampus operation in advance. I will also notify professors to disperse test times so that they do not overlap.
Concluding the interview with President Kim
Regarding foreign students, President Kim advised the Office of International Affairs to execute an outreach program. Starting from May, rather than having students come to the office, the office has been contacting them in advance to ask if there are any problems and how the office can help them. President Kim also mentioned that, based on the conversation she had with the director of the Career Development Center (CDC) the day before, CDC has plans to help students in employment, launch start-ups, and find their careers.
Before concluding the interview, President Kim showed her affection towards the school by pointing to her Ewha green mask, green colored suit, and the pear blossom badge attached to it.
“I love both the color ‘Ewha Green’ and the ‘Green Ewha’ ecosystem,” President Kim said. “Looking ahead four years, when my term comes to an end, I hope for Ewha to become a lively university and wish to be remembered as a warm president.”