Marta Metelko/Elvia H. Thompson
July 28, 2004
"Three-Year" Absence From Korea Leads To 15-Year NASA Career
Dr. Jaiwon Shin never imagined he would one day look back on a 15-year career at NASA. But today, as the newly appointed Deputy Associate Administrator of NASA's Office of Aeronautics, that is exactly what he is doing.
Shin was raised in Seoul, Korea, and at the age of 23, he told his parents he wanted to go to the United States for three years to earn a graduate degree in engineering. The conversation was very difficult for him, because in Korean culture sons are responsible for supporting their parents, and proposing an extended stay halfway around the world was not an option. To his surprise, both parents encouraged him to go ahead, but today Shin still remembers how difficult the decision was to make and the words he used to explain his choice.
"We have mandatory three-year military service in Korea," he said, "but I had been exempted because my eyesight is so bad. So I told my mother that my time in the United States would be just like being in the service."
That was more than 20 years ago: the three-year tour has turned out to be just a bit longer.
"I don't think she's expecting me to come home now," Shin laughed.
Shin was appointed to his current position at NASA Headquarters last May from his post as Chief of the Aeronautics Projects Office at NASA's Glenn Research Center (GRC), Cleveland. At GRC he held a number of increasingly responsible positions in various areas including aviation safety, propulsion, and computational and experimental aircraft icing research.
Shin's bachelor's degree is from Yonsei University in Korea. He came to the United States to obtain his master's degree in mechanical engineering from California State University, Long Beach. Although he had studied English, beginning in middle school and through college, upon arrival he found that mastering the English language was his most difficult obstacle.
"I knew grammatical English," he said. "I could read and understand, but in conversation there is so much more than just the words. I could not make out the societal nuances and meanings that came with the words," he added.
While he was having no problems with the subject matter of his studies, the language barrier made even the simple things of everyday life frustrating. "My most vivid memory is spending over an hour at the bank just trying to open an account," he said.
Shin made fast work of his master's degree and applied to the doctoral program in mechanical engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va. From Blacksburg, he was recruited by NASA and went to work at GRC in 1989.
Throughout his career, Shin has received various honors. These include NASA's Exceptional Service Medal, a NASA Group Achievement Award, Lewis Superior Accomplishment Award, three Lewis Group Achievement Awards, and an Air Force Team Award. He also is a graduate of the Senior Executive Fellowship Program at the JFK School of Government at Harvard University and is the author or co-author of over 20 technical papers and journal articles.
Shin has been very busy in his new position in the Office of Aeronautics. Assisting Associate Administrator Dr. J. Victor Lebacqz with the day-to-day operation of NASA's newly invigorated program in aeronautics, Shin is looking forward to supporting NASA's Vision for Space Exploration that will lead to a return to the moon and exploration of Mars and planets beyond.
Media organizations interested in interviewing Shin should contact Elvia Thompson, NASA Public Affairs, at: 202/358-1696. For information about NASA on the Internet, visit:
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