Chun Shin-ae (’64, English Literature) is the highest-ranking Korean American appointee in the political history of United States. Her résumé begins simply with a student immigrating to the U.S., away from parents who would not let her marry a man of the same last name. But her profile is filled with successes.
Born in 1943, Chun spent most of her youth in her hometown of Masan in Gyeongnam province. She studied at Ewha as an English major. After graduation, with her husband-to-be, Chun immigrated to Illinois in the 1960s.
Even though her major was English Literature and Language, a little did she thought about her future career other than being a housewife.
But it was when her husband advised Chun to study further at Northwestern University that her career life began.
Enrolled in Master’s degree program in education and social policy, Chun later wrote in her book, You Are 99% Potential, that her study at Northwestern was a starting point for her to get interested in social work. In her book, she mentioned that “I was not good at handling housework as I broke plates often.” Then she thought about her job something else outside.
So, Chun started her career at an Illinois Bilingual language center as a consultant at the age of 32.
Four years later, however, the center had to be closed due to lack of government funding. But, Chun was not dissapointed of her job lose but continued to work for Asian Americans without pay by comprising Asian American Commitee with other representatives of each Asian countries.
Then Chun’s effort to work or the welfare of Asian immigrants was recognized and appointed as Director of the Illinois Department of Labor, becoming the first ever Asian American cabinet member.
After devoting her career and heart to the government of Illinois, Chun finally made it to the federal government during the Bush administration in 2001, becoming the 15th director of the Women’s Bureau. The Women’s Bureau was the only federal organization that supported women’s rights in the workforce.
After retiring from the government position in 2009, Chun now spends time as a public speaker at universities inspiring “the future of a nation,”—as she puts it—of Korea and the United States.