[Vol.19] A Guide for Life: the Mind of a True Mentor (Professor Taek-soo Kim, UST-KITECH Campus Critical Materials and Semiconductor Packaging Engineering Major)
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- Registration Date : 2016-09-29
It was just a few years ago that the word “mentor” became a fad in the media and the book market. Still, mentor remains in fashion. The reason the word “mentor”― a person teaching and leading people―was so touching to the public might be that the people living in this modern era do not have a person they can call their mentor. This is why Professor Taek-soo Kim’s discussion in this interview was more than impressive: he was concerned not only with the students’ academic achievement but also with all other aspects of their lives.
Your lecture evaluation score (4.94) reaches almost full marks. Did you know about it?
I just learned about it now. I thought they did not like my lecture that much because I would always go over the class time (laugh). I do not prefer having a unilateral way of teaching. Instead, I always try to have interactive communication with my students. Also, sometimes the discussion would become too heated, and I would miss the timing to end it. I lead all my classes in English, but I have to explain the same thing in Korean again because some Korean students do not understand. It took time, too. Sometimes, I would order pizza or fried chicken to share with the students during class. Maybe they gave me generous scores because I treat them with such delicious food (laugh).
Students think of you as a father-like teacher.
In addition to academic achievement, I have quite devoted myself to paying attention to the personal lives of my students. To focus on your study, what surrounds you, including your family life, should make you feel comfortable. If they consider me as a father-like teacher, it is because I always try to talk about how they should lead their everyday lives, not only about their studies. I want to create a free and easy atmosphere where students can talk with me about anything so that I would be able to help them discuss any subject, including the academic ones, even outside the classroom or lab. I believe that true education does not have any fixed criteria or venue.
It is said you take great care of foreign students and help them adapt to Korea.
For foreign students, housing is the first issue they need to address when studying here. It is not easy to find a place to stay in a foreign country where they do not even have a good command of its native language. So, when foreign students under my lead look for a house, I would help them find a place or sometimes I would even support them financially.
My department has a lot of Muslim students from countries like Pakistan. Their culture is quite different from ours, so I try to understand the way they live. I try to help them feel comfortable by recommending restaurants, giving them time for their religious activities, or guiding them to Korean language classes. I think that only when foreign students are able to stably settle down in Korea would they be able to contribute to building an international network in the future. So, these kind of efforts are not totally separate from our education objectives.
Your teaching philosophy, trying to understand the whole life of a student, is so impressive. What made you originally decide to be a professor?
In the past, general materials, such as ferrous metal, was the driving force of our industries. Now, synthesizing rare metals with such materials to improve their properties can lead to high value-added products. Critical metals are now an indispensable part in high-tech industries such as semi-conductors, displays, and mobile phones. While the industries that need critical metals are quite advanced in Korea, research about the materials are at a relatively in poor stage. I recognized that we need to take measures to the industrial changes in which the value of rare metals is increasingly highly appreciated, and naturally, I felt responsible for nurturing talents with expertise in this field.
What will you focus on in your teaching?
Critical metal engineering was born by the needs of the industries, which means the education of this major is directly connected to the industry field. But, like what I went through as a student, many students still stay at memorizing and solving test questions without knowing how they can apply the subjects in the real world. So, when they advance into higher level, they are bound to feel less interested. I want to raise the awareness that the subjects that they are delving into now are the fundamentals of related businesses and furthermore, the entire society.
Tell us about the vision and goal of the critical metal engineering major.
Since its establishment in 2011, the size of the department has been growing remarkably through things like laboratory extension and others. We will produce our first graduate next February. I have great expectations of what my students will give back to the society after their graduation.
The critical metal industry will gain stronger ground in the future. I wish KITECH and Korea Institute for Rare Metals will establish themselves as the world’s best specialized school and research institute that are fostering experts in rare metals.
What kind of teacher would you like to be to your students?
A professor that they want to have a life-long relationship with. I wish the relationship between me and my students would stay long after their graduation. I want to be a life mentor they want to discuss about their career path or any other important decision in their life. This is what I wanted for my professors during my school years. I always remind myself of what I wanted as a student and try to out myself in my students’ shoes.