[Interview] Individuality over Credentials. Meet POSTECH Freshmen Minsoo Kim, Sehee Jung, and Hanseo Park
Every year a slew of multitalented POSTECH freshmen who crush the stereotype of ‘nerdy engineering students’ draw much attention. This year is no exception. Many extraordinary students with affinity for inventing, cooking, and sports have arrived at POSTECH. They share a common denominator – their love for science. They are also a group of aspiring young adults who fearlessly pursue their dreams. We spoke with the incoming freshmen of 2020 Minsoo Kim, Sehee Jung, and Hanseo Park.
◆ Dreaming of becoming a warm-hearted robotics engineer
Minsoo Kim, who dreams of becoming a robotics engineer, kicked off his college life with more fervor than anyone else even though the campus is off limits and all classes have gone online. He has already joined POSTECH’s robotics club POWER-ON. When he was a child, he often took apart broken appliances and unused machines around the house against his mother’s wishes. He felt extremely happy when those malfunctioning machines came back to life through his hands. His encounter with robots also came naturally.
He attended a regular middle and high school – not a science specialized school – but was obsessed with robots and sought educational programs elsewhere. There were no physics classes offered at his school so he took a class through the Ggumdre Joint Educational Program (educational system joining 31 high schools to offer various classes to students) operated by the Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education. The commute alone was three hours. Despite the pressures of being a high school senior, he never missed a single class.
He humbly replied, “I was excited to take a course in physics experiments, since my school curriculum had left me craving for more. I still have the materials and notes I took from that class.” He added, “I am now taking a physics lab course at POSTECH and I think what I have learned then is helping me.”
Park also won prizes at various invention contests. The most memorable was winning the grand prize at the one at his school. His idea was to improve the experience for motorized wheelchair users. He decided this when he saw a wheelchair user having trouble entering through a sliding door. Winning the grand prize allowed him to enter bigger contests and to make the product himself.
He got on the wheelchair that he borrowed from the community health center and started writing down the discomforts he felt. He analyzed the aspects that had room for improvement and made the product sawing and using 3D printing at his school’s small shop room. Although it was during the mid-terms, he forgot the passing of time perfecting the product. That special moment that he realized his invention could help those in need eventually led him to POSTECH.
He continued, “POSTECH has plenty of educational programs that truly care about nurturing young students and that made me want to attend. My decision became clearer after participating in the Explore POSTECH STEM program in high school. He added, “I have big interests in mechanical engineering, but I think it’s a process to find an area that I really love. I want to choose my career path by exploring various subjects and become an indispensable person in that field.”
Also, “It’s true that I had a preconception about POSTECH because many of my classmates hail from science academies or schools for the gifted. But we are all students who love science in the end. I believe all of us will gain opportunities when we do our best in our respective places. Let’s do it together!”
Kim is a well-rounded student who excels not only in his studies but also in others like cooking and bowling. He believes that studying and researching are a battle of the physical, and relieves his stress by doing what he likes and has built up endurance to withstand exhaustion. He has not taken a step towards his dream of becoming a robotics engineer.
◆ Scientist who wants to so many things? That’s fine, this is POSTECH!
Experiment-obsessed Sehee Jung, who stays up all night when immersed in experiments, dreamt of becoming a scientist while conducting experiments on new and renewable energy. At her parents’ recommendation, she attended the education center for the gifted operated by the office of education during her elementary school years, and encountered scientific experiments for the first time there. She was completely drawn to it as time went by and it became the reason for attending the faraway Daejeon Science High School, leaving her hometown of Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.
Life in Daejeon fueled her love for experiments even more. She was the first to raise her hand when there was project involving experiments. Going back and forth between the laboratory and her dormitory was a pleasure, not a chore. She did not neglect her other school or extracurricular activities either. She was an overachiever who took on roles as club president and officer of her student body.
We can get a glimpse into her huge enthusiasm for research from her club activities – she joined and participated in six to be exact. Her favorite among them was the chemical experiments club. She confesses, “It was really interesting to decide on a weekly theme and conduct experiments while discussing about it.” She also participated in plenty of extracurricular activities, such as operating a booth at an educational expo where her peers could conduct experiments.
What made her fall in love with experiments? “I got inspired by the graduate students whom I participated in a project with.”
She had a great opportunity to participate in a research with graduate students from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) at an academic conference organized by the Center for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WISET) and the Korean Institute of Chemical Engineers. The experiment involved the electricity conversion of carbon dioxide and the research on the transformation of copper surface as a catalyst for energy production and carbon fixation. By conducting weekly experiments, she experienced a research institute of the highest caliber which opened her eyes to the joy of using advanced devices in a high quality research facility.
Jung says there are still so many researches she wants delve into. To her, POSTECH’s undeclared major curriculum was incredibly attractive. POSTECH implemented this system to help freshmen enjoy a whole year of flexibility, exploration, and challenge in their self-driven academic pursuit without being tied to a major.
She says, “The interest in POSTECH grew once I heard the detailed explanation from the admissions officer about the educational environment, the class programs and the facilities. My seniors who had chosen POSTECH sincerely recommended it to me as well.” She continues, “I have extensive interests in new materials and chemical engineering, so I started collecting data on what the researchers were investigating at POSTECH and found them be extremely interesting. I’m very excited and look forward to studying what I want to study here.”
Remote learning is making it difficult to conduct experiments but she has set up a ‘tiny laboratory’ at home with the materials the school has sent. She says, “I am taking a lab course on new materials and the school sent me some tools. I’m having fun doing experiments and writing reports at home. It’s an online class but we experiment while communicating in real-time and it’s quite fun.”
When the campus returns to normal, Jung looks forward to short-term study abroad programs and club activities. She comments, “When I was in high school, I took a course on new materials and read various research papers published. I think new materials can be used not only in the industrial sector but also in the medical field.” She adds that she decided to take on diverse disciplines, not just one area, in line with the meaning of Mueunjae, which means that there are no boundaries in learning.
◆ Patent flex! Future inventor of Korea’s first self-driving car
Hanseo Park, a graduate of Sejong Science High School, was a boy with huge interest in inventions. Upon seeing life’s little inconveniences, he found himself unconsciously thinking, ‘How can I fix those problems?’ Naturally, he was exposed to and intrigued by science and technology.
In particular, the self-driving car he happened to ride as a high school freshman was a thrilling and refreshing experience. “I want to make cars not just as a means of transportation but also as a second home where people can rest,” his eyes glisten. Along with autonomous driving technology related to future cars, he wants to research technologies that can ensure safe and comfortable living for people. He also has dreams to launch a startup related to those technologies.
Park goes by the nickname ‘High School Inventor.’ He has consistently participated in various contests such as invention fairs, mock startup competitions, convergence science and creativity competitions, research project contest, and Samsung Humantech Paper Award. He has also applied for three patents and has won at a thesis competition.
The most memorable competition was the convergence science and creativity competition that he entered in his second year of high school. He begged his friends to enter the competition together after seeing its topic: Improving the ventilation, temperature, and humidity control of underground auditorium. He visited the auditorium over 10 times a day and collected data including the location of the air conditioners and ventilators. He wanted to solve the problem using the Venturi effect that he had learned in his physics class. To explain his conception easily, he made a parody on the Korean TV show Unanswered Questions. This allowed him to pin down his dream of becoming an engineer who fixes inconveniences and helps people to better understand.
His other nickname is ‘Soccer Nut.’ He likes soccer so much to have considered becoming a professional player when he was younger. He played at sporting events organized by the union of science high schools. Due to his outstanding performance, Sejong Science High School made history by advancing to the finals for the first time in 10 years since its founding. It was no laughing matter when his parents momentarily worried about his admission to POSTECH after he ran out to check the school’s soccer field, the night before his admissions interview.
He answers, “I used to play soccer during my lunch or free time to relieve stress and get closer to my friends.” He expresses his love for soccer and added, “I was able to strengthen my body and mind through soccer. As I became more confident, my grades improved also. Soccer is life.”
When time came to choose which college to attend, he chose POSTECH where he could try everything he wanted from sports, inventing and launching a startup. He explained specific reasons for choosing POSTECH, “The elite educational system for a small selection of students and that even freshmen can participate in research projects to enrich their research experience. But above all, the startup incubating programs caught my eye the most.”
Park is disappointed that COVID-19 took away the campus life he so long waited for. When everything returns to normal, he wants to tackle a short-term study abroad program. “I would like to broaden my horizons by taking classes and traveling with friends from all over the world,” he speaks of his plans to study in Spain. It doesn’t hurt that Spain, of course, excels in soccer.