I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Seung Kyun Ko, one of the longest employed faculty members. He has worked at Hawai‘i Pacific University for almost 45 years. During our conversation, Dr. Ko shared how he started with Hawaii Loa College in 1972 and how he has seen the university evolve since that time. Born in Seoul, Korea, and currently a professor of political science and international relations, Dr. Ko is still going strong at 80 years old. Some of his personal accomplishments include visiting all 50 states, being knowledgeable in seven languages, and personally meeting Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Clinton. Dr. Ko has never called in sick nor cancelled a class.
Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
Q: How did you become employed at then Hawaii Loa College?
A: By accident actually. I received my undergraduate degree from the College of Wooster and my master’s degree and Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania. Upon completion of my terminal degree in 1968, I returned home to Korea and worked as a commissioner at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As commissioner, I was fortunate enough to come to Hawai‘i in 1970 for a conference. During that time, I happened to be driving on the windward side of O‘ahu when I saw Hawaii Loa College and decided to stop in and tour the campus. A few minutes after introducing myself to the office, the dean came out to speak with me. We spoke for some time about my academic background and shortly thereafter he invited me to meet with then president, Chandler Rowe. From our conversation, President Rowe explained that Hawaii Loa was looking to become a stronger liberal arts college, mirrored after the success that the College of Wooster had garnered. Right place at the right time is an understatement as I walked away from my meeting with the dean and president with a job offer in hand! I returned to Hawai‘i in 1972 and was hired as a tenured associate professor of political science.
Q: Why have you chosen to stay with HPU for almost 45 years?
A: It is only when people remind me that I realize I’ve been here for that long. It truly feels like I’ve been here only a short period of time. It is probably because of the nature of the subjects I teach, which keep me busy with different things and all kinds of challenges. Political science, international relations, and comparative politics are very dynamic topics that are constantly changing. In order for me to be an effective professor, I must study, read, and keep informed of what’s going on in the ever-changing global landscape of politics and international relations. The need to prepare my students for what’s going on in the world and to encourage and inspire students to perform to their highest standard is what continues to fuel my drive after all these years.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge in your life?
A: Attaining my undergraduate degree probably was my biggest challenge. As a Korean native with limited comprehension of the English language, I missed 80 percent of what was taught in class. Not for lack of effort, but my grades suffered, and I performed poorly my freshman year. Despite all of that, the College of Wooster believed in me and felt I could succeed with a little bit of help. I was assigned an English professor as a personal tutor and over the course of the next two years, I was able to improve my English skills. The highlight of my undergraduate studies was when I received an invitation to the White House to meet with President Eisenhower. I am proud to say that I received the Lincoln Prize in political science from the College of Wooster, the highest honor in senior thesis. I credit my success to the instructors and deans of the College of Wooster and professors at the University of Pennsylvania who were so supportive of me.
Q: If you could have dinner with anyone past, present, or future, who would that be?
A: There are so many people to choose from that it is hard to pick just one. However, if I had to pick only one person to have dinner with, it would be my father. I miss him dearly, and I would like to buy him dinner one last time. My dad passed in 1999 at 87 years old.
Q: So what is keeping you busy these days?
A: Well, I want to write more books. I am the author of over 40 articles and three books with a fourth book currently in the works. My plan is to write at least 10 books! I am currently conducting research on the topic, “work beyond 80, live beyond 100,” looking at foods that help to cure common ailments.
Here are some of Dr. Ko’s personal preferences:
- Android or Apple? None – Samsung flip phone
- Coffee or Tea? Tea – Chinese tea
- Cats or Dogs? Dogs
- Early Bird or Night Owl? Night owl, I usually work
until 2 or 3 a.m.
- Phone call or Text? Both, though texting is
harder on a flip phone.