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Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Former Chemistry Professor Dr. Kwang Yun

*The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is former Chemistry Professor Dr. Kwang Yun. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Dr. Kwang Yun. Photo provided.

Dr. Yun holds a special place in the hearts of his former students and is well respected by his colleagues. He taught chemistry and helped many students prepare to pursue their careers in medicine, pharmacy, science, and other fields. He was a favorite teacher because he really cared about his students and was always willing to help them succeed. You will enjoy reading his Ole Miss story.

Brown: Where did you grow up? Please talk about your childhood, family, and siblings.

Yun: I was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1929. I remember that I lived with my grandparents and my parents with five sisters. My sisters and I all emigrated to the United States. Two sisters are deceased. One lives near Chicago, one in Long Island, and the other in Detroit. My wife and I have one daughter who lives in Portland, Oregon.

Dr. Yun’s Family – April 1936 with his sisters, his parents (back row), Grandparents (middle row); Dr. Yun is pictured standing in the center. Photo courtesy of Dr. Yun.

Brown: Where did you go to school?

Yun: In 1936, I entered an elementary school near my home in Seoul several blocks away. I enrolled in a middle school (7th to 10th grades) which was about two miles away from my home. Those are from 1942 to 1946. Since Korea was a colony under the Japanese, we have to take the Japanese educational system; everything was taught in Japanese but I learned Korean from my parents.

In 1946, after the end of World War II, we became independent from Japan. I entered a preparatory school which was a part of the Seoul National University. This prep school was similar to a German gymnasium system (a type of school with a strong emphasis on academic learning) enforcing math and foreign languages. I had two years of high school just after the Japanese left Korea.

I advanced to an undergraduate program as a chemistry major and finished my undergraduate degree in 1952 which was during the Korean conflict. I was drafted and served two and a half years in the South Korean Army and was discharged in 1955.

I was admitted to the University of Cincinnati in 1956 and completed a Ph.D. degree in 1961.

Brown: How did you choose the University of Cincinnati?

Yun: From 1946 until 1952, Korea depended on U.S. aid in the national public schools. Much of that aid was in the form of army supplies—educational manuals used in the military. My freshmen through senior high school years, we studied English text. I didn’t know anything about the various colleges. But in my sophomore year, I took organic chemistry and the textbook author was from the University of Cincinnati, so I thought that would be a good place to study.

Brown: What subjects were hardest for you in school?

Yun: The difficult subjects for me were physics and mathematics.

Brown: Who influenced your career choice?

Yun: My father, who suggested that I should study science but not law. My father was a merchant who had two years of college. I was 27 when I started my graduate work at the University of Cincinnati. My wife went to LSU but later attended Ohio State.

Brown: Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began? Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss?

Yun: I had two post-doctoral positions—one at the University of Maryland and the second one at the Research Council Lab in Canada. Since the post-doctoral positions were not renewable, I began to look for a teaching position. I had several offers, but the offer from Ole Miss was the best. Dr. Robert B. Scott, Jr, Chair of the Chemistry Department hired me. Dr. Andrew Stefani recommended me. Dr. Scott was my Department Chair but he also became my friend. He and his wife, Russell, helped me and my wife a lot, teaching us about Southern culture. I joined the Department of Chemistry in 1968 and taught general chemistry, physical chemistry, and graduate courses in quantum chemistry and statistical thermodynamics for 31 years. I retired in June 1998.

Mrs. Yun with Dr. Yun on the occasion of his retirement in 1998. Photo courtesy of Dr. Yun.

Brown: What did you know about Ole Miss before you accepted a position here?

Yun: The only information I had was the information provided by the American Chemical Society. So I didn’t know much about the university before I arrived. When I came to Oxford, there were about 5,000 students. My wife and I lived in Northgate Apartments on campus (faculty and staff housing). I remember the first person who helped me was Mrs. Margaret Fields. She was very kind and very helpful.

Brown: Describe your most memorable days at work.

Yun: Teaching a large class of freshmen, fresh from their high school was challenging. That was some experience! For the first two years, I was assigned smaller classes because I was less experienced. However, after that I got the large freshmen classes.

Brown: What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?

Yun: In 1981, I received the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award. I also received the Cora Lee Graham Outstanding Teacher of Freshmen award from the College of Liberal Arts and the Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society’s Outstanding Teacher Award.

Brown: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Yun: Teaching! There have been more than 6,000 students who went through my classes during my years of teaching, which generated many well-known doctors and pharmacists.

Brown: If there was something in your past you were able to go back and do differently, what would that be?

Yun: Be nice to under-prepared students. I didn’t mind repeating answers to questions. Repetition in the explanation is a virtue. I was willing to repeat it until the students understood the concept.

Brown: What is the best advice you ever received?

Yun: Be patient and don’t jump to conclusions.

Brown: If you could have an all-expenses paid trip to see any famous world monument, which monument would you choose?

Yun: I’d travel to the Canadian Rockies. It’s so beautiful there! I lived in Canada and Boulder, Colorado. I loved visiting Estes Park and other sites each weekend.

Brown: What do you do to improve your mood when you are in a bad mood?

Yun: Listen to classical music.

Brown: Tell us something about yourself that not many people may know.

L-R, Mrs. Yun, Dr. Yun, Connie Flake (Oxford artist) and her husband, Tim Flake. Photo courtesy of Dr. Yun.

Yun: I used to do oil painting, landscapes. I took lessons from Oxford artist Connie Flake around 1985. I also enjoyed getting to know Clarksdale native Jason Bouldin, son of portrait artist Marshall Bouldin. Jason was a freshman in my chemistry class and came to me to tell me at the end of his freshman year that he was going to Harvard to major in art history. Jason has followed in his father’s footsteps and has become a noted artist in his own right. I no longer paint but I enjoyed it very much.

Dr. & Mrs. Yun pictured with one of his oil paintings. He has sold over 60 paintings. Photo courtesy of Dr. Yun.

Brown: What gives you great joy?

Yun: Reading and listening to music. I like reading old classics. I like German novels of the 18th and 19th centuries. I like reading about human history, the creation of the university, etc. And I love listening to classical music.

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

For questions or comments, email hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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