Leading through innovation.

KMI will work to further strengthen previously established reputations and relationships between GWU and South Korea by providing a bridge for existing programming and by centralizing the University’s connection to South Korea.

The George Washington University has played an important role in the relations between Korea and the United States. Executives of the largest Korean companies, such as Hyundai, Dae Woo and Samsung either studied at GWU, earned degrees, or were recipients of honorary degrees. Former President Lee Myung-bak spent a year and a half as a visiting scholar at the George Washington University. GW International – Asia and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences also has existing collaborations in South Korea with Ewha Womans University (Seoul), Hallym University Medical Center (Seoul), Korea University (Seoul), Seoul National University (Seoul) , and Yonsei University (Seoul).

Below we have outlined some of the documented history of the relationship between GWU and South Korea.

Korean Presidents & GWU

Syngman Rhee

Syngman Rhee (1875-1965) graduated from George Washington University with an A.B. degree in 1907. He received a Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award in 1949 and an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1954. He became the first president of South Korea, ruling from March 1948 to April 1960. Rhee, a professed Christian, was identified strongly with the conservative, anti-Communist side in Korean politics and geopolitics, and led South Korea throughout the Korean War. His presidency ended in resignation following popular protests against a disputed election. He died in exile in Hawaii.

While at GW, he was a member of the YMCA Club and Enosinian Society, a debating club. He was noted to be a graceful after-dinner speaker and a regular attendant at morning chapel. The 1907 yearbook had this description of him:

Syngman Rhee

There is a young fellow named Rhee,
From the realm of Korea is hee.
Lest perchance you should stray,
He is careful to say,
“I am neither a Jap[sic] nor Chinee[sic].”

Thus spoke our Syngman when he came to America from Korea, less than three years ago. Now he has most of us beat a block at our own language, as is shown by his feat of winning his A.B in two and one-half years. He is an active member of the University Y.M.C.A Club and of the Enosinian Society, a graceful after-dinner speaker, and- greatest distinction of all- a regular attendant at morning chapel. He intends to return to Korea on completing his studies, and will be a minister of the gospel in his home city of Seoul. Peng ani gasio, Syngman!

“This is My Proud Day” (July 30, 1954) – Syngman Rhee

The University called a Special Convocation in honor of his Excellency, The President of the Republic of Korea, and awarded him the degree of Doctor of Laws. The Convocation was held in Lisner Auditorium. In addition to the University trustees and faculties, guests included representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, the Senate, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and other Washington officials, as well as officers of University alumni groups and of Washington cultural and civic groups. University president Cloyd H. Marvin cited President Rhee as a “son of the George Washington University…man of sincere attitude, in whom discerning understanding and Christian character are united; patriot and leader whose almost eternal patience, quiet will, and deep spiritual power have wrought for himself and his countrymen, through demanding periods of stress, a disciplined courage and a steadfast understanding that sacrificial service is necessary for public weal.”

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Lee Myung-Bak

Archive Article: The George Washington University Presents President of The Republic of Korea Lee Myung-Bak with Honorary Degree 

June 17, 2009

The George Washington University President Steven Knapp today presented His Excellency Lee Myung-Bak, president of the Republic of Korea, with an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from GW. The honorary degree was conferred in a ceremony at GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium before an audience of distinguished guests including United States Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Kathleen Stephens, Republic of Korea Ambassador to the United States Han Duk-soo, and other members of the diplomatic corps, as well as GW trustees, students, alumni, faculty and staff. 

While presenting the honorary degree, President Knapp noted that President Lee has strong ties to GW, having served as a visiting scholar in 1999, studying and teaching international business. President Knapp recounted President Lee’s rise from poverty as a child to his success as CEO and then Chairman of Hyundai, Mayor of Seoul and finally his election as president of the Republic of Korea in 2007.

“You rose from humble circumstances to become a trailblazer in business and a visionary leader of the Republic of Korea,” said President Knapp. “From the corporate boardroom to The George Washington University to your country’s highest office, you have a demonstrated a global vision, a commitment to education and a dedication to service.”

He also spoke of the great historic relationship between the Republic of Korea and GW, which has spanned more than a century. It began in 1892, when Suh Jai P’il received his medical degree from GW, becoming the first Korean to graduate from an American medical school. Dr. Syngman Rhee, the founder of the Republic of Korea, is another famous GW alumnus, graduating in 1907. More than 100 years later, over 800 students–the largest concentration of GW alumni outside of the United States–reside in the Republic of Korea, some of which traveled to the United States for today’s ceremony. Over 250 students from the Republic of Korea were enrolled in GW this last academic year.

During his speech, President Lee talked about his strong connection to GW and his experience on campus. He discussed his vision for the Republic of Korea based on Green Growth and educational and economic opportunity, a more peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula and greater engagement in the world community.

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GWU Alumni Awards

Dae-Whan Chang Receives GW’s Alumni Achievement Award

Dae-Whan Chang Receives GW’s Alumni Achievement Award

Elliott School graduate and South Korean business leader honored at campus ceremony.

Jun 9, 2015

Dae-Whan Chang, chair and publisher of the South Korean-based Maekyung Media Group, was honored Wednesday with the university’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, the highest annual recognition given by the George Washington Alumni Association to a GW graduate.

An alumnus of the Elliott School of International Affairs, Dr. Chang, M.A. ’76, is one of South Korea’s most respected thought leaders. He is the founder of the World Knowledge Forum—the largest annual business forum in Asia—and has served as chair and publisher of Maekyung since 1988.

He was recognized at a special ceremony that featured remarks from Elliott School Dean Michael Brown and GWAA President-elect Jeremy Gosbee, B.A. ’98, M.A. ’02. The full class of 2015 award recipients will be honored at a Sept. 24 dinner during the university’s annual Alumni Weekend celebration.

“This is one of our most long-standing programs at the university—older than our alumni association itself, in fact,” Mr. Gosbee said. “We’re thrilled to be honoring a representative of the Elliott School who has a career of distinction that is extremely worthy of recognition.”

Dr. Chang served as chair of the Korean Association of Newspapers from 2005-2010 and currently is a commissioner of the Global Commission on International Governance. His efforts to grow the World Knowledge Forum—which he describes as a small-scale version of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Switzerland—showcase his interests in media, global economics and international relations. In remarks Wednesday, he touched on a host of topics, including the ongoing developments of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Beijing-led effort of more than 30 countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy, that he said will help meet Asia’s enormous infrastructure needs.

The bank, he said, represents an important economic union in Asia and will help expedite highway, railroad and airport projects.

“Many things are happening in Asia,” Dr. Chang said. “Economic action is happening. I think Asia will provide lots of new opportunities, a new paradigm.”

He said he hopes more American students visit the continent. Dr. Chang has worked to raise GW’s profile in South Korea, Dr. Brown said. He was a keynote speaker at the GW Global Forum in Seoul in 2012, an event that featured remarks from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, M.B.A. ’71, and then-Wired Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson.

“Dr. Chang has had a truly extraordinary career and record of professional accomplishment in public service,” Dr. Brown said. “[He] is, without a doubt, one of GW’s most distinguished and accomplished graduates in the private sector, the nonprofit world and in public service.”

Past recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award—one of several annual honors given out by the GW Alumni Association—include 16-time NBA champion Arnold “Red” Auerbach, B.S. ’40, M.A. ’41; Nobel Prize winner Julius Axelrod, Ph.D. ’55; and Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, who graduated from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences in 1907.

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Simon Lee Awarded President’s Medal

Alumnus, founder and CEO of STG Inc. is first Korean-American to receive honor.

November 20, 2014

Simon Lee, founder and chief executive officer of STG Inc., was recognized with the George Washington University President’s Medal on Wednesday, becoming the first Korean-American to receive the award.

Mr. Lee, M.S. ’05, has been an active university volunteer and an influential advocate for GW in the United States and abroad for more than a decade, playing a critical role in the growth and success of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and serving as a resource for student, parent and alumni relations in the Republic of Korea.

A $1 million gift from Mr. Lee and his wife, Anna, in 2010 endowed the Korea University Undergraduate Exchange Program, which provides financial assistance for engineering students at GW to study abroad at Korea University. Another gift of $1 million in 2014 to Korea University funds an exchange program for graduate students and professors between the two universities.

“Simon Lee is a faithful friend and alumnus whose devotion to education has enabled students in both the United States and the Republic of Korea to realize their dreams,” President Steven Knapp said. “I am proud to bestow this special honor on him for his unwavering dedication to the George Washington University, his achievements as a visionary entrepreneur and his leadership in fostering educational exchanges between his two alma maters and the great capital cities in which they reside.”

The President’s Medal, established in 1988, is the highest honor the university president can award. It recognizes individuals who have exhibited courage, character and leadership in their chosen fields and who exemplify the ability of all human beings to improve the lives of others.

“I began the exchange program to build a bridge between GW and Korea University—two universities that have had a major influence on my life,” Mr. Lee said Wednesday. “I know, someday, the students that enter this program will turn into successful world leaders and entrepreneurs themselves and will also give back, creating more opportunities for students and a stronger bond between the two universities and the two countries I love so dearly.”

After emigrating from the Republic of Korea to the United States in 1979, Mr. Lee worked as an engineer and bookkeeper with MCI Telecommunications before launching STG Inc. in 1986. Since then he has grown STG into a company of more than 1,300 employees that works with more than 50 federal agencies. A member of the SEAS National Advisory Council, Mr. Lee was inducted into the SEAS Hall of Fame in 2010 and received GW’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award in 2012.

“I’ve developed enormous admiration and respect for Simon Lee, not just as a very successful businessman and not just as an unparalleled bridge builder between two great institutions, but as a man with a vision of transforming young people’s lives,” said SEAS Dean David Dolling, who spoke of how Mr. Lee devoted a full day last year to take three undergraduate students to meet with engineers at LG Display, one of Korea’s most successful high-tech companies.

Simon Lee Award

“We had a tour of their design and manufacturing plant that really only VIPs get. We saw some of their latest technology they’ll be bringing to the marketplace very shortly,” Dr. Dolling said. “What CEO of a major company devotes a full day to giving three GW students such an amazing experience? Well, Simon Lee. The lives of many students have been, and will continue to be, enriched through the programs he has built and supported.”

Previous recipients of the President’s Medal include Nobel Laureate and former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, former Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres, journalist Walter Cronkite, Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, NASA astronaut Charles J. Camarda, M.S. ’80, philanthropist Albert H. Small and Swiss diplomat and social justice advocate Carl Lutz, B.A. ’24.

“To be in the same company as presidents, prime ministers and Nobel laureates who have received this medal before me is truly humbling,” Mr. Lee said.

Simon Lee, who received the George Washington University President’s Medal on Wednesday, joined engineering alumni of the Korea University exchange program last week for a reunion event in Foggy Bottom. To date, 23 GW students have been supported by the Simon and Anna Lee Korea University Endowment.

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Friends of Korea Studies

The Sigur Center created the initiative called the Friends of Korea Studies as part of its stepped up outreach on Korea Studies. The initiative was launched in December 2007 with an exclusive reception and commentary for business, community, academia and government leaders. The discussion focused on “Challenges and Prospects for the KORUS FTA” and featured well-known experts on the Korean economy and trade relations, Yoon Shik Park, Professor at GWU’s School of Business, and Jeffrey Schott, Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, moderated by GW’s Professor Young-Key Kim-Renaud, Chair of the East Asian Languages & Literatures Department.

With the Friends of Korea Studies effort, the Center hopes to raise additional resources to continue enhancing its reputation as one of the country’s leading policy research forums on contemporary Korea, and expand existing programs and activities. High level symposia, policy dialogues, featured speakers from business, government and community groups, a broad range of scholarly and policy research activities including specialized lecture series, visiting fellows and student scholarships — we envision an even more active and wider spectrum of activities in the future.

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