College alumnus MuKeun Lee receives UI's International Alumni Award for Exceptional Achievement

by Sal Nudo   /   Apr 10, 2014

College alumnus Dr. MuKeun Lee was the recipient of the 2013 Madhuri & Jagdish N. Sheth International Alumni Award for Exceptional Achievement. He was honored for his work in vocational-technical education and human resource development, and for his efforts in government commissions that have helped shape education and labor policies in South Korea.

The Sheth award annually honors University of Illinois alumni who enhance their nation or the world through contributions to government, humanity, science, art, or human welfare.

Lee earned a doctorate in vocational and technical education from the College in 1977. By his own admission he was a hard worker who lived alone, studied hard, and attained his degree at Urbana-Champaign in just over two years. Many years later, Dr. Lee was recognized as a College of Education 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award winner.

“Education must be a top priority for developing countries,” he said the day after the ceremony. “I thank Illinois for driving me to be a leader, a great educator, and scholar in the field of Korean human resources development.”

For more than 42 years, Dr. Lee has worked as a professor, scholar, and administrator for human resource development. He has taught more than 800 undergraduate students, 130 master’s degree students, 40 doctoral students, and has published more than 20 books and 200 articles.

After returning to South Korea, Lee said his Illinois education allowed him to help advance his country educationally. He founded one of the first vocational doctoral programs in South Korea at Seoul National University and was the president of Kyungil University and Dongmyung University. Dr. Lee has held several positions including President of Korea Society of Vocational Education, Korea Society of Higher Education, Korea Society of Regional Human Resource Development, and Korea Society of Agricultural Education. He also served in an advisory capacity for the Korea vocational-technical education committee of Blue House, Office of Prime Minister, and Ministry of Education.

Additionally, Lee was made a fellow of the Korean Academy of Science and Technology and received the Blue Stripes Medal in the Order of Service Merit—the highest honor presented by the South Korean president to educators. He was also the first president of the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise recounted Lee’s successes while introducing him at the April 3 awards ceremony at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.

“His list of accomplishments would be enviable, and if I went on and told you all the details, I would take up the rest of this hour,” Wise said.

Lee said in his reception speech that education is a “driving force” in South Korea, adding that nearly 71 percent of high school students in South Korea entered higher-education institutes in 2013.

During the question-and-answer session of the reception, David Krupa, who received the University’s Charles C. Stewart International Young Humanitarian Award, commended Lee on South Korea’s educational system.

“People are paying attention to what South Korea has done, and it works,” Krupa said. “I hope that it can translate to other parts of the world.”

Though Lee was appreciative of the remark, he cautioned that the culture, situation, and needs of every country are different, and what is viable in South Korea may not be so in other countries.

“Think of your climate, your country’s own climate,” Lee said.

Lee conveyed his pride in South Korea, calling it a “unique and dynamic” country that ranks No. 10 in the world in gross domestic product. He cited a CNN report on the country that highlighted its advanced Wi-Fi culture, the plethora of women golfers and credit card users, and a propensity of South Koreans to work and play hard.

Lee calls the world a “global village” without borders and credits the U of I with leading the way on the international front through its programs, studies, awards, and student recruitment.

“It’s really wonderful,” Lee said about his honor from the University. “I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity.”

Discover the MuKeun Lee Dissertation Scholarship, Dr. Lee’s generous gift to the College.