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A Family of Firsts

As the son of two Korean-Amer­i­can edu­ca­tors who earned their grad­u­ate degrees dur­ing the Great Depres­sion, Mr. Park’s par­ents pro­vided him with a unique foun­da­tion and perspective.

Mr. Park’s father, Dr. Joseph D. Park (1906–1988) was a renowned organoflu­o­rine chemist and pro­fes­sor (Uni­ver­sity of Col­orado-Boul­der) who earned his Ph.D. from The Ohio State in 1937 and his mother, Ber­nice “Bong Hee” Kim (1911–1993) was an English/semantics teacher who earned her Mas­ter’s degree from the Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii, also in 1937, when there were few peo­ple, much less Korean women pur­su­ing grad­u­ate degrees.

As an appren­tice engi­neer under Thomas Midg­ley, Eric’s father could be counted among those respon­si­ble for the effects of CFCs on the earth’s ozone layer, as well as being a piv­otal archi­tect of today’s mod­ern Korea that caught up to and is now com­pet­i­tive with Japan, while his moth­er’s 1937 Mas­ter’s the­sis, The Kore­ans in Hawaii is one of the ear­li­est sources trac­ing how Kore­ans first emi­grated to Hawaii (1903–1905) and on to the rest of the United States. (reference1, reference2, reference3.)

Eric’s child­hood mem­o­ries include a mas­sive dic­tio­nary that was so big it sat on its own stand w/wheels, a com­plete set of the Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ica that was impos­si­ble to read with­out the afore­men­tioned dic­tio­nary and his own lab bench in his father’s chem­istry lab­o­ra­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Col­orado. With such teach­ers as par­ents, Eric’s edu­ca­tion was lit­er­ally 24/7/365 — with sci­en­tific method­ol­ogy from one side and seman­tics from the other.

“There was never a ques­tion about how or why some­thing worked that my father could­n’t explain,” says Park, “includ­ing dia­grams on his favorite media — paper nap­kins.” And although there were times when you wished you had­n’t asked the ques­tion in the first place, you always learned some­thing you did­n’t know — even if, by the end of the answer, you really did­n’t care any­more. “It was like hav­ing my very ownMr. Wiz­ard- a view I know many of my father’s stu­dents shared,” says Park.

Although Dr. Park rarely taught under­grad­u­ates, occa­sion­ally he would teach a Chem 101 intro­duc­tory class, which would be instantly filled with a long wait­ing list because of stu­dent word-of-mouth. In the class, Dr. Park would ask stu­dents to bring in var­i­ous house­hold items and he would explain the role of chem­istry in every­thing from drain cleaner to bak­ing soda to plas­tic wrap to aerosol sprays and Scotch tape.

Eric’s father was recruited by the US (John­son admin­is­tra­tion) and Korean gov­ern­ments to bring his unique skills, expe­ri­ence and vision to cre­ate the post-Korean War part­ner­ship between Kore­a’s edu­ca­tional sys­tem and its emerg­ing indus­try pat­terned after his own career — where his time was spent con­stantly mov­ing back and forth between indus­try and acad­e­mia — never los­ing sight of his per­sonal view of the role of edu­ca­tion — to apply what you have learned in order to make a dif­fer­ence in the real world. All of his grad­u­ate stu­dents were assigned research projects from Dr. Park’s indus­try con­tacts and he would even delay the final oral exams until the stu­dent had a firm offer of employ­ment. (See page 389 of Ori­gins of Korean State Sci­ence, by John Paul DiMoia.)

There is lit­tle doubt that Dr. Joseph D. Park’s con­tri­bu­tion and vision had much to do with the tech­ni­cal and indus­trial excel­lence that is Korea today. His “sug­ges­tion” in 1970 for Korea not to join the Patent Coop­er­a­tion Treaty (PCT) served the coun­try well. (Korea did not sign the treaty until 1984.) Dr. Joseph D. Park served as Pres­i­dent of KAIS (Korea Advanced Insti­tute of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy) from 1972–1974.

Eric was never able to sit in on one of his moth­er’s classes, as she retired from teach­ing to start the fam­ily, how­ever from his expe­ri­ences at home and meet­ing some of his moth­er’s for­mer stu­dents — he knew that she too was a ter­rific teacher — albeit, more strict and author­i­tar­ian in her method of teach­ing than his father.

As a young, female Korean teacher in the Hon­olulu pub­lic school sys­tem in the 1940s, Eric’s mother was given the not-so-great (read “crappy”) assign­ments — with mostly what you would today call “prob­lem stu­dents” (read “juve­nile delin­quents”). Pic­ture a five foot two, 98lb woman col­lect­ing switch­blades and other non-edu­ca­tion related para­pher­na­lia every day before class.

Eric says, “I know you’re think­ing the same thing I did when I heard these sto­ries — no way, right? And that’s what I thought when­ever my mother would tell her sto­ries about the depres­sion and how hard it was and how ‘every­thing cost a nickel’…until one day she told me to go up to our attic and bring down the box with all the weapons she had con­fis­cated over the years. And it was a pretty heavy box with at least 25 switch­blades of var­i­ous sizes, sling­shots, and some other devices that were def­i­nitely not school supplies.”

“It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that any­one car­ry­ing these weapons to school could ever amount to any­thing,” says Park, “but hav­ing met the judges, lawyers, and teach­ers that were once my mom’s stu­dents — you under­stand the dif­fer­ence edu­ca­tion and the right teacher can make in a per­son’s life path.” 

Eric says, “Look­ing back, it appears that there is a log­i­cal step-by-step pro­gres­sion that has brought me to this place and time with the ideas that I’ve devel­oped over the years.”

“I have always been haunted by my father’s favorite quote — ‘to see what every­body has seen, but to think what no one has thought’ by one of my father’s acquain­tances, Albert Szent-Györ­gyi — actu­ally ‘haunted’ isn’t the right word — more like ‘pounded into my brain’ would be more accu­rate,” says Park.

While not explic­itly demanded of him — it cer­tainly seemed expected, although his par­ents were gen­uinely con­cerned when so much of their son’s think­ing was “out­side the box” — and often caused prob­lems. “I was raised in an ether of sci­en­tific method and seman­tics, to ques­tion every­thing, apply logic and imag­i­na­tion to deter­mine hypothe­ses, then rig­or­ously test those hypothe­ses and fol­low the results wher­ever they might lead,” states Park.

The Pedia Credibility Algo­rithm is the end result of ask­ing a sim­ple ques­tion: “Why do mar­keters pro­vide mar­ket­ing that con­sumers don’t want instead of pro­vid­ing mar­ket­ing that con­sumers want?”