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Left to right: Seoul National U and U of Minnesota researchers Moon, Hwang, and Verfaillie, and former SNU medical school dean Lee.

Left to right: Seoul National University (SNU) researchers Shin Yong Moon and Woo Suk Hwang, U of M professor Catherine Verfaillie, and former SNU medical school dean Chongwook Lee. Each was part of a panel on stem cell research at the University on Nov. 15

From sutures to stem cells

U celebrates 50 years of partnership with Seoul National University

By Gayla Marty and Jennifer Schulz

From Brief, November 17, 2004

The devastation was immense. The war that split Korea into north and south raged from 1950 to 1953. More than a million Koreans died, dams were bombed and rivers unleashed, cities and landscapes torn and flattened.

In Seoul, research at the national university was interrupted and destroyed. Faculty members were killed and kidnapped. Finally, the school evacuated the city and fled south, setting up temporary operations in Pusan.

When war ended, the surviving faculty made its way back to Seoul. By 1959, when then-professor of medicine Neal Gault arrived from Minnesota, the university hospital was treating patients without essential drugs and equipment. "I don't know how they ever survived, but they did," he says.

Be part of International Education Week 2004

This week is designated by the U.S. Departments of State and Education. University of Minnesota activities include a study abroad reunion, an exposition of international research by Judd Fellows, awards to international alumni, films, lectures, and dozens of college-based programs.

University of Minnesota, Duluth, activities will culminate with International Taste of Duluth, Nov. 20.

The University of Minnesota, Morris, sponsored an International Country Fair Nov. 10.

See the U's International Education Week Web site for more information.

Gault was part of Operation Korea, a U.S. government-funded contract to help rebuild and develop the teaching and research programs in medicine, nursing, agriculture, veterinary medicine, engineering, and public administration at Seoul National University (SNU). The connection to Minnesota was made by the federal agency's director, a U of M alumnus and former governor, Harold Stassen. From 1954 to 1962, more than 200 Koreans studied in the United States, most at Minnesota, and 59 U.S. faculty members served in Korea, two-thirds from Minnesota.

When the contract ended, the relationship continued across several disciplines. Today, the School of Nursing and the Carlson School of Management continue active relationships with SNU.

Half a century--and beyond

Fast-forward 50 years, and Seoul is a modern city of more than 10 million, SNU the top university in Korea. In medicine, it's one of the best universities anywhere. A Korean heads the World Health Organization (WHO), leading the fight against AIDS, tobacco use, and potential as well as real epidemics. And in February 2004, two SNU researchers shook the world with news that they had cloned human embryos to produce embryonic stem cells.

Researchers Shin Yong Moon and Woo Suk Hwang came to Minnesota this week along with the former dean of the SNU medical faculty, Chongwook Lee, for a research symposium and celebration of the 50th anniversary of the University of Minnesota-SNU relationship.

Academic Health Center head Frank Cerra was honored by the SNU medical faculty in a banquet Monday night, and Gault received an award for exceptional service for his role in the SNU project. But Gault turned the praise to his SNU colleagues.

"Let us give credit to the Korean faculty for what they have done," said Gault. "It was the Koreans who went back and struggled. If they hadn't wanted to make the change, it wouldn't have happened."

Lee expressed hope for continued collaboration in the challenges of medicine and medical education in the 21st century.

"Our mission at SNU is to play a role similar to the one the University of Minnesota played for us, for somebody else," said Lee.

Building expertise through international involvement

Korea is one of several countries where the University has played an important role in building higher education. Over the years, others have included Chile, Tunisia, Morocco, Papua New Guinea, Poland, and other nations in Eastern Europe. Nearly every college faculty has been been involved in international programs.

International engagement has not been a major part of the University's public identity, at least not locally. But that depth that has contributed to the faculty's expertise, quality, and stature just as surely as the University has contributed to other nations. Today, the University of Minnesota and other Big Ten schools are known around the world in large part because of their historical commitment and engagement abroad and the education they've provided to generations of students from around the world.

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