Fr. Johan Pahk Yeong-sik, president of the Catholic University of Korea, says he will focus on producing well-rounded graduates during a recent interview.
By Kang Shin-who
While the nation’s top universities are striving to send more students overseas as part of their globalization drive, the Catholic University of Korea is transforming its campus into a center for “inbound” globalization.
Under the leadership of Fr. Johan Pahk Yeong-sik, president of the university, the school has introduced an intensive English emersion program, named “Global English Outreach (GEO).”
The university requires all freshmen to live in the English language dormitory which can accommodate 1,200 students and professors. They should use only English around the clock under the program that usually runs for about a month.
The dormitory, named “Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan International Center,” was established last August at its Songsim campus, located in Bucheon, west of Seoul.
“We initiated the GEO program with the aim of improving students’ spoken English. They are supposed to think and talk in English under the GEO program,” Pahk said in an interview with The Korea Times.
The university runs the GEO program year round in the international residence, where Korean students can stay together with foreign students and professors.
“Students are required to speak only in English, so I hope the program helps them to talk in English even in their dreams,” Pahk added.
Students are divided into five groups according to their proficiency levels. Also, a variety of events, such as English speech, essay writing and presentation contests take place.
The school boasts a strong network with hundreds of other Catholic universities around the world _ there are some 650 Catholic universities worldwide. Currently, the university is running partnership programs with 96 universities in 15 countries and plans to further expand the international partnership.
In addition, the university has a growing number of foreign students and English-only lectures. This year, the number of foreign students increased more than three times from a year earlier, with English-only lectures more than doubled.
It has been recognized by the education ministry for its quality education programs and won the government’s special funding for two consecutive years.
In addition, the ministry has acknowledged the university for its admissions policy and recently it has been selected as one of 11 “education-oriented” universities.
Fostering warmhearted leaders
The university’s ‘International hub’ building in Bucheon. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
Under its educational philosophy of “truth, love, and service in Catholicism,” the university has put a priority on nurturing well-rounded talent.
“Above all, I will do my utmost to produce warm-hearted graduates, those who are trustworthy and could be the light and salt of the world,” Pahk said. “I hope our students will be confident of themselves. I really want to help them become decent human beings with a mind to respect human dignity.”
The university is trying to be distinguished from other higher education institutes with its unique programs in accordance to its foundational spirit, such as “Ethical Leaders Rearing Program” (ELP) and “Creativity, Analytical Competence and Problem-solving Competence (CAP)” courses.
A special humanities course, ELP, consists of “problem-solving” and “improvement of humanity.” It includes anthropology, divinity and ethics.
The CAP course is also the university’s unique program aiming to improve students’ critical thinking ability. It includes volunteering, participation in leadership activities and debate competition. Pahk explained that these humanity-focused programs present the university’s roles and responsibility toward our society.
Pahk says schools should provide education tailored to the needs of students, their parents and companies.
“We should provide programs meeting the needs of students,” he said. “At the same time, I ask professors to be closer with students. I wish our school can be a place where professors put in their best to offer quality education and receive sincere appreciation from students.”
Although the president believes visible figures such as research output and academic performance don’t tell everything, he stressed the need of competition among universities to provide better education and climb higher in the international rankings.
Under its mid-to long-term “2015 Plan,” the CUK targets to be ranked among the top seven universities in the nation by 2015.
He said the school will put a greater emphasis on departments where it can do better than other schools.
“Universities will face a shortage of students in accordance with decreasing population. To cope with this, we need to focus on specialized fields where we can excel,” Pahk said.
To that end, the university will expand investment in medicine and biotechnology fields.
“We have a big advantage in medicine and biotechnology as we have eight hospitals and another one is planned by 2014. This field will be new driving force for the development of our country,” he said.
The university has scouted a number of renowned professors for the plan. Moreover, it succeeded this year to get government approval for the establishment of a pharmacy department and started to recruit students for the next academic year.
Well aware of the need to raise funds for investment, Pahk has been active in fund-raising. The amount for research and development has more than doubled over the last few years. Last year alone, he raised some 52 billion won for research projects.
The 155 year-old university has its headquarters in Gyeonggi Province and two other campuses in Seoul _ Songsim campus in Hyehwa-dong and Songeui campus in Banpo-dong.
Songsim campus, the biggest one among the three, has departments of humanities, music, social sciences, international studies, natural and life sciences along with human ecology and engineering studies. Songsim campus is set to nurture Catholic priests with the College of Theology, while Songeui campus specializes in medicine and nursing studies.
Brief history of the university
1855 - Father Maistre establishes St. Joseph's Seminary in Baeron, Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province.
1954 - The Catholic Medical School is established.
1994 - The Catholic Educational Foundation is established with Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan inaugurated as its first chairperson of the Board of Trustees. Songsim Women's University merges with Catholic University, incorporating the Songsim and Songeui campuses.
2002 - The university's three colleges are expanded to 13 schools with eight departments, and total freshman enrollment increased to 1,795. Bishop Lee Han-taek is inaugurated as the third chairperson of the Board of Trustees.
2009 - Fr. Johan Pahk Yeong-sik took office as the fifth president of the university.
Who is Fr. Johan Pahk Yeong-sik?
Pahk studied at Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and gained his master’s and doctoral degrees there.
He had served as a secretary of the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, one of the most famous Catholic leaders around the world, for three years.
He has also published dozens of books, particularly translations of theology works. So far he has published more than 60 books and aims to publish up to 100 books.
Pahk, also a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, is also well-known for speaking multiple languages.
He took office in January 2009 as the fifth president of the university for a four-year term.