By being the forerunner of a newfound educational environment in Korea, the former president has not only imbued the college with a sense of singularity, but also characterized the school with a driven vigor that is sought and practiced in many of other universities in the States. Gleaming through the works of Kang Sung Mo, it is more than plausible to say that he has given KAIST a sense of direction. Assimilating a radical change through an institution demands more than just an individual’s vision; bringing up an idea with no concession creases the institution’s administration and the suggestion needs to be soothed into the board. Brand new education model can potentially play havoc with the traditional ways of learning (both to the students and the teachers) and a hefty load of the old model needs to be trimmed down to make rooms for the new, which could at worst conjure an image of a university that lacks identity. However, the well-defined philosophy of the president together with his tangible accomplishments speak for the sustainable changes in KAIST that addresses the aforementioned worries.
In laying the foregrounds of an entrepreneurship-emphasized college, the president had to acknowledge that he was working in an environment that was not fully ready to concur with this new approach. The evident contrast between the educational system between Korea and the United States suggests that Koreans are not accustomed to spontaneity and have a well rooted predilection for guideline-based teaching – a textbook approach so to speak. In making the right amendments that would not upset the present setting, the president believed that “foreign students are the best ambassadors” and that they’d play the role of “encourage[ing] other people to come to KAIST”. The president had envisioned an amalgamation of two different learning cultures, and in a manner that’s not forceful nor unwelcoming. The second phase to the change was to form a start-up culture that is drawn parallel to the idea that a symbol ‘pi’ may represent - horizontal bar that symbolizes breadth of knowledge, with the two prongs that represent in-depth knowledge in a chosen field and entrepreneurship spirit. Whilst there’s a noticeable consensus on president Kang’s success in seeping in a start-up culture to the campus, there are critics that are skeptical about his work on gluing the administration together. However, it is clear that any flaws that may have resulted from the changes are not due to the changes themselves, but the lack of effort from the employees to exploit the provision. President Kang said that the “future blueprint of KAIST needs to be remade in consultation with all its constituents and the Board of Trustees” in his inauguration speech, adding that such a blueprint can only truly be realized given the full participation of all. The ‘ombudsperson’ system that was put in place allows all members of the campus to channel their opinions and it’s the first time a Korean college has adopted something like this. Together with his persistent emphasis on the idea of ‘servant leadership’, the president has tried to level the relationships between all members of the administration. Even from the most objective angle, there is no need for any further mechanisms to improve the communication within campus – if anything, people just need to be better informed of what’s out there.
All forms of reformation, to be effective and sustainable, have to have a firm ideal base. These may not be felt straight off the semantics of a leader, but with enough attention and scrutiny, it can be appreciated in a long term. What president Kang has done for the school should be viewed with nothing short of gratitude, and if we, the student body, cannot concur with his visions, perhaps its us that aren’t prepared for the changes. If so, we need to understand that our demand for change (to model other respected colleges) is just pure ignorance. Just as the president drew the analogy from the movie “The Mission”, on how abandoning loads can sit uneasy but necessary in order to make the climb, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of Robert De Niro to adapt to the circumstances.