After spending more than 50 years at MIT, Professor Nam Pyo Suh hopes to use his experience in research and management to help the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) meet ambitious goals. Appointed KAIST’s president in 2006, Suh is striving to make the Korean institute, which was founded in 1971, one of the best scientific and technological universities in the world.
At MIT “I learned a lot about how to work with faculty to make changes,” says Suh, who served as head of the mechanical-engineering department for 10 years. He also knows about hard work. As an undergraduate, he put in 25 hours a week as a Burton House janitor and a lab assistant, among other jobs.
After Suh earned his SM in mechanical engineering, he worked for USM, which financed his PhD study at Carnegie Mellon University, and then spent four years on the faculty at the University of South Carolina. Returning to MIT, he founded the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity and the MIT-Industry Polymer Processing Program. His research into polymers played a role in the development of microcellular plastic, known as MuCell, and he contributed significantly to tribology research, which explores the interaction of surfaces in relative motion. He also headed MIT’s Park Center for Complex Systems.
Suh says his goal at KAIST is to help turn an already great institution into a premier academic establishment. Suh’s five-year plan for KAIST includes hiring hundreds of faculty to reduce the student-professor ratio from 9.8:1 to 6:1. As part of his plan, freshman courses must now be delivered in English, and all classes will be conducted in English by 2010. He is also developing dual-degree programs with some world-renowned institutions, including the Technical University of Berlin and Carnegie Mellon University, to facilitate academic exchanges. He hopes to someday form a partnership between MIT and KAIST. And he’s launched an impressive fund-raising effort.
“I see this as doing my part to return the many favors I have had through my life,” says Suh, who lives mainly in Korea with his wife. The Suhs also keep a home in Massachusetts–a good jumping-off point for visiting their four grown daughters, all of whom live in the U.S.