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USC Viterbi School Graduate Named President of Major Korean University

Civil engineering graduate Sung Woo Lee becomes ninth president of leading university in South Korea

May 05, 2008 — Sung Woo Lee, a 1987 graduate of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, has been named president of Kookmin University, a major university and leader in information technology in South Korea.
Sung Woo Lee

Lee becomes the ninth president of Kookmin University, a 62-year-old institution with approximately 22,000 students and 400-plus faculty in Seoul, South Korea. An international leader in composite bridge decks, Lee earned his B.S. degree in civil engineering from Seoul National University.  Following five years of service as an officer in the Korean Navy, Lee and his family came to USC, where he earned his master's degree and Ph.D. in civil engineering under the direction of  James Anderson, professor of civil engineering in the Astani Department, his Ph.D. adviser.

“Sung Woo was an outstanding student with a penchant for computers," said Anderson, who was invited to participate in his inaugural ceremony in Seoul, South Korea.  “I regarded him as one of my best students, hard-working and determined to excel in his field.”

After finishing his academic studies at USC, Lee accepted a position as professor at Kookmin University, and later served as the dean of engineering prior to his election to the presidency from among 12 outstanding candidates. Anderson said he was thrilled to give one of the inaugural speeches and to visit afterward with the new Kookmin University president. Following the ceremony, Anderson and his wife spent two days with Lee and his wife visiting several historical sites in Seoul. 

Others who knew Lee at USC, such as Farzad Naeim, vice president and general counsel at John A. Martin & Associates, Inc., were equally delighted to hear of his appointment.  
Sung Woo Lee, left, with Jim Anderson, professor in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Lee's Ph.D. adviser.

“We do not often see one of our own advance to the rank of a major university president,” said Naeim, who knew Lee in the mid-1980s, when he was working on his doctorate. Lee went to work part-time for Martin & Associate’s Research and Development Division, which was under Naeim’s supervision.  The team was involved in developing a new series of structural design software systems that revolutionized the day-to-day practice of structural engineering in the office.  

“Sung Woo was a breath of fresh air,” Naeim said.  “He was hard-working and dedicated, with a great sense of humor. I had no doubt then that he would become a successful engineer and a leader. The seeds of greatness were there already.”

Kookmin University shares a growing reputation in some of the engineering disciplines that USC is known for worldwide. In 2006, Kookmin University established a new College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to accommodate a growing research program and student enrollment.  

Lee is a member of the National Academy of Engineering of Korea, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE) and the Composites Bridge Alliance of Europe (COBRAE), an international association of individuals and companies whose mission is to promote the research, development, standardization and application of polymer composites in bridge and infrastructure construction.  He holds three international patents and 30 national patents on composite bridge decks and composite structures.