On February 16, 2021, it was announced that Nam Center Director Nojin Kwak has accepted a new position as Vice Provost for International Education at the University at Buffalo (State University of New York). While we will be sad to see him leave as his term as director ends this summer, we would like to take time to highlight his myriad contributions to the Center and U-M community at large.

Nojin Kwak joined the University of Michigan in 2000 and is a member of the tenured faculty at professor rank in the Department of Communication and Media in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA). He currently serves as chair of the department and is a co-director of the Politics and Communication (PAC) Lab. His research centers on the role of communication media—social media, mobile telephony, and other digital platforms—in civic and political engagement. He has received numerous top paper awards at major conferences, while also organizing many conferences himself. He served as president of the Korean American Communication Association.

In 2009, Nojin joined the Korean Studies Center as interim director and has continued to helm the Center for twelve years. His tenure as director had an auspicious start with the naming of the Center in 2010, and the Center saw extraordinary growth. On behalf of the entire Nam family, Andrew Nam expressed his admiration for Nojin’s contributions and excitement for the future. “The Nam Family congratulates Prof. Kwak and his family for a great opportunity and advancement. Prof. Kwak will be missed, but he leaves NCKS in a better place. It is a big vacancy to fill. Prof. Kwak knew Elder Sang Yong Nam very well, but change is the one constant in life and we must press on; even when there will be a void in our hearts.”

Under Nojin’s leadership, the Nam Center received the prestigious Academy of Korean Studies’ 5-year Core Overseas University in Korean Studies grant in 2011 and again in 2016, which funds cutting-edge faculty research projects, postdoctoral fellowships, academic conferences, manuscript and pedagogy workshops for junior faculty, curriculum grants, as well as student scholarships. This grant kickstarted the Center’s Perspectives on Contemporary Korea conference and publication series published by the U-M Press, of which Nojin serves as co-editor. He facilitated the creation of the Three||Eight translation series in 2019, funded by LTI Korea, as a culmination of that year’s conference on division literature. The conference series, now in its tenth iteration, has served as a launchpad for scholars examining critical issues in contemporary Korea in the US and across the globe.  His impact through the Center’s active publications series will be a lasting legacy in Korean studies.

Nojin has also established the Center as a leader in Korean studies curriculum building. In 2012, with support from the Korea Foundation, he developed the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) Korean Studies e-School, a real-time course-share initiative among Big Ten universities. After being piloted between U-M and Michigan State the program has grown to encompass 13 universities, and over 2,000 students have participated in e-School courses. The students enrolled in e-School courses are eligible for competitive scholarships to attend the Yonsei International Summer School (YISS). This consortium has been a model to other area studies consortia and is a leader in the BTAA courseshare program.

Nojin is acclaimed for his contributions in advancing the field of Korean studies offerings as well as his commitment to the undergraduate and graduate student experience. Nojin started the Nam Center Undergraduate Fellows program in 2012 that provides students with the opportunity to engage in research and outreach related to Korea and present their work at the annual exchange conference with the University of Southern California Institute of Korean Studies. Additionally, a select number of students are able to attend YISS thanks to the Summer in Korea scholarship. During his tenure, Nojin also created the Graduate Fellows program that provides the space for graduate students to collaborate with one another and to organize the annual International Conference of NextGen Korean Studies Scholars (NEKST) each May. Starting in 2015, the Center hosts 30 students each summer from Ajou University for the Summer in Michigan Program in English Language, which offers the visiting students a chance to connect with U-M undergraduate student liaisons and to acclimate them with the US way of life. Since its inauguration in 2012, the Sang-Yong Nam Award has recognized outstanding undergraduate students in Korean studies.  

An ambitious line up of cultural and educational outreach programs was inaugurated during Nojin’s tenure as director, which includes the Korea Cinema Now, Ann Arbor Korean Independent Film Festival, Artist in Residence, Chuseok Celebration, K-Pop contest, Korea Quiz Bowl, teacher workshop, and the Single Shard. The engagement with the UM alumni club of Korea has significantly grown during his tenure, thereby laying a solid trajectory for continuous and productive partnership with the alumni club.   

Nojin is also widely respected for his contributions and leadership outside the Nam Center. In 2016, Nojin became Chair of the Department of Communication and Media, where he oversees one of the largest undergraduate departments in LSA. In 2018, he secured a four-year Title VI grant for East Asian studies programs from the U.S. Department of Education, which provides a number of funding and programmatic opportunities for internationalizing the U-M and partner institutions. The grant also provides numerous FLAS stipends for U-M undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in East Asian language courses. During the academic year of 2019-20, upon selection by the U-M Provost’s office, Nojin participated as one of the six fellows from the U-M in BTAA’s Academic Leadership Program, a year-long intensive program that aims to develop the leadership and managerial skills of select fellows to be effective senior academic administrators. The U-M Office of the Provost awarded Nojin the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award to recognize his contribution to diversity—particularly in the area of international and intercultural diversity—in the University of Michigan community. 

As director, since AY2012, Nojin has secured more than $13.6 million in grants and gifts from individual donors, foundations, and government agencies—domestically and internationally. The gifts and grants help ensure current and future financial stability for core programming and support a variety of center initiatives, including the establishment of an endowed professorship, academic exchange, scholarships, research support, curricular innovation, and public programming, among others.

David Chung, Professor of the U-M Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, who first introduced Nojin to the Center, echoes the thoughts of many in his gratitude to Nojin for these past 12 years of impact. “Nojin has been a remarkable director. Under his leadership, he has made the Nam Center the gold standard for centers of Korean studies around the world. He has nurtured an engaging center with innovative scholarship and programmatic activity alongside robust fundraising. We, in the U-M community, appreciate all the work he has done while keeping the Nam Center a warm and welcoming place.”

The Nam Center is grateful for Nojin’s steadfast leadership and commitment to all facets of Korean studies at U-M. His presence will be felt in Ann Arbor for many years to come, and we all wish him extraordinary success at the University at Buffalo!