SMU graduate student issues invitation on Facebook

Junghyun Park, who will be getting her Ph.D. in geophysics from SMU at Saturday’s Commencement Convocation, got to meet former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

DALLAS (SMU) – This is a big week for Junghyun Park, who received her Ph.D. in geophysics from SMU at Saturday’s Commencement Convocation.  But it’s going to take a lot of excitement to top the events of April 26.

Junghyun Park
PRESIDENT'S AUTOGRAPH - Junghyun Park holds a card with her name in Korean (top), President Lee Myung-bak's signature in the middle, and the date.
That was the day after the George W. Bush Presidential Center was dedicated on the SMU campus.  But it’s also the day Park met with Lee Myung-bak, until very recently the president of her home country of South Korea.

When SMU Seismology Professor Brian Stump heard that Lee would be one of the international dignitaries at the Bush Center dedication, he issued a challenge to his 29-year-old graduate student:  “We should invite him for a visit.”

And why not? Park’s dissertation was focused on underground nuclear testing in North Korea.  Who would be more interested in the topic than the former leader of South Korea? So Park did what any other internet-savvy woman would do under the circumstances – she reached out to President Lee via Facebook.

She left a message, identifying herself as an SMU South Korean student, asking to meet with him during his visit to Dallas if he had the time.

“He answered in two hours!” Park recalled.  “He sent his secretary’s number.”

Chris Hayward, SMU geophysical research projects director, has a clear memory of what happened next: “Junghyun was very excited,” Hayward said. “She ran down the hall screaming.”

Lee accepted Park’s invitation and invited her to meet with him and his wife at his hotel in Dallas the day after the Bush Center was dedicated.  Park was given permission to bring a friend, Seung W. Song, who received his MBA from SMU’s Cox School of Business in 2010. They arrived for the meeting with a small gift – an SMU T-shirt – and Park began telling the former president about what she had been studying at SMU.  “He was really interested in that,” Park said.  “I turned in my presentation paper to him.”

Lee’s advice for her was simple: “Study hard and be confident.  You can do anything with confidence.”

That’s good advice, Park says. And the newly minted geophysicist knows she learned at least one big lesson from the experience.  

“I didn’t use Facebook much before,” Park said. “I do now. ”