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09/25/2016 Interview > Alumni Important News


Winning Millions as Research Funds

Professor Kang Sung-pil (Education ’95), University of New Mexico


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Engineering is fundamentally about solving human problems. There is a continuous need for engineers who are capable of solving societal problems such as clean water, diverse and sustainable energy sources, and improved health care. In the United States, there is an independent federal agency created by the Congress called the National Science Foundation (NSF), which supports the states’ education and research. This week, the Internet Hanyang News (IHN) introduces Kang Sung-pil (Education ’95) who won 2 million dollars of research funds from NSF with his team in the University of New Mexico (UNM) to renovate the university’s chemical and bio engineering curricula.

Chemical Engineers to Transform Society

Kang is working as an assistant professor at the department of Organization, Information, and Learning Sciences (OILS) at UNM. After graduating from HYU, he attained a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology (IST) in the United States. His major and interest are closely related with human performance technology, instructional design, change management, and school reforms. Kang worked with many global companies and inter-governmental organizations like the Bank of America, McDonalds, Samsung, LG, and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). While his earlier careers were largely relevant to increasing the effectiveness of workers at corporations, the project he and his team are working on is to revolutionize how undergraduate engineering is taught in the US and to attract more groups that are currently under represented in the discipline.

▲With fellow professors at UNM, Kang worked as a social scientist and agent to monitor and manage the overall process of the project. 
Photo courtesy of Kang Sung-pil

“In the last two years, there has been an attempt to improve and develop a new curriculum of chemical engineering at UNM. Then professors from the department submitted a grant proposal last year to NSF but was rejected because the processes of revolutionizing the education system was unclear. In that period, I was asked if I wanted to join the team to work as a social scientist and agent to oversee the process,” said Kang. Today, there are three professors from chemical engineering, and two from OILS including Kang. They started to work on the project again, beginning last summer in 2015.

It took them several months to improve their grant proposal. During the process, Kang and his team held workshops to reflect the feedbacks and opinions of other professors, students, and corporations onthe engineering curriculum. Last December, the team submitted their proposal and won the grant among 60 other university teams. “The average amount of grant funds that NSF usually awards is 160,000 dollars which shows how much expectation the US government has toward the project.”

“It could be regarded as a burden somewhat, by receiving that much money. I was glad that our research had that much value and potential. Our team is now greatly motivated to further our research based on the proposal,” said Kang.

Focusing on Practical and Communal Values

“In next three years, curriculum will be changed in steps, by focusing on increasing the practicality of engineering education the university with two core ideas called ‘design challenge’ and ‘badge system’,” said Kang. Conventional engineering education in the US emphasizes fundamental knowledge, and students do not get to practice engineering in the late academic years. They end up learning tons of concepts and equations but not much on how to actually utilize the theories in different situations that requires critical and creative thinking. As a result, many students drop out because they cannot make the connection between their courses and the real work of engineers.

 ▲Kang and his team focused on 'design challenge' and 'badge' systems to be set as core components in the new chemical and bioengineering curricula. Photo courtesy of Kang Sung-pil

“The design challenge requires students to actually solve problems by utilizing learned concepts in classes. It will be comprised of tackling challenges that the regional society, chemical and bio engineering industries face in real life, including research subjects that are popular at a certain period of time. Badges that are given to students who accomplished certain design challenges will be able to officially prove students’ abilities to industries and corporations.”

Kang and his team also wanted to focus more on engaging students who are female or from the lower classes of society. “Conventional researches show that male students are more inclined to do better in the fields of math and science, but when we test female students using the method of the aforementioned design challenge, female students show better problem-solving skills, being more flexible than their male peers,” said Kang. With the new education approach, Kang hopes there will be a break in the glass ceiling in the field of engineering.

“In addition, it is a fact that students from the middle or higher social class are more likely to perform better at schools. It is due to what is called cultural capital, giving them an invisible but a very powerful advantage compared to students who are born in poorer families. We wanted the new curriculum to interest students from different economic classes by planning design challenges that can effectively motivate them to be engaged,” explained Kang.

To Be a Better Educator

While Kang chose to continue his studies in the US to delve into the fields of his interest such as corporate education, it took him much effort to adjust well to a different working environment where language and culture are dissimilar with that of Korea. “I was able to overcome many challenges up until now because of good teachers I have met in my life. Many of them are from the Department of Education at Hanyang University. I learned how my attitude should be and what values I should hold in my life as an educator. Every day when I go to work, I remind myself that I should live my life to benefit others which I believe connects to Hanyang’s spirit, love in deed,” said Kang.

▲Kang mentioned how he always reminds himself of Hanyang University's motto- 'Love in Deed'.
Photo courtesy of Kang Sung-pil

Yun Ji-hyun

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