alumni & friends
Giving Peace a Chance:
Gift Caps an Amazing Journey M
ac Kibum Lee, BA ’14, calls himself a searcher. As a political science major at Columbian College, he found himself pondering questions that scholars and statesmen spend a lifetime studying: Why is it so hard to resolve global conflicts? What does real peace actually look like? And, most importantly, where do I fit in? What can I do to improve people’s lives?
Mac Kibum Lee, BA ’14
But of all the places Lee looked for answers, perhaps the least expected—and most inspiring—was a classroom. While minoring in peace studies, Lee’s goals and philosophy were forged in classes with Irene Oh, peace studies director and associate professor of religion. In 2014, Lee repaid what he considered a debt of gratitude by making a sizable donation to the program—a student gift that, according to Oh, is unprecedented in the 30-year history of peace studies at the university. “When someone is actually willing to contribute such a generous gift, it speaks volumes about how they feel about the value of our work,” said Oh, who plans to use the funds to enhance programming and support for student travel to international conferences. Although peace studies didn’t become a major until 2011, the program now boasts 30 majors and minors, up from just three minors in 2009. The interdisciplinary curriculum— which pulls from religion, sociology, and history—attracts students from international affairs to philosophy students to pre-med. Like Lee, many of Oh’s students turn their classwork into fieldwork. She’s seen peace studies veterans volunteer at schools in Thailand, construct “green” housing in Texas and enroll in Teach for America.
“. . . the next great person who affects world peace may sit in this classroom.” —Mac Lee
“It’s always exciting when students make the connections between what they learn in the classroom and what they see on the ground,” Oh said.
A Better Way “We all ask: What do I want to achieve?” said Lee. “For me, the answer was: I want to strive for peace. I want to make a difference.” Lee’s quest has taken him around the world—from his native South Korea, where, as a child, he lived in the shadow of military threats to the north; to the United Nations, where he joined disarmament debates; to Ethiopia and Malawi where he delivered much-needed health care services to impoverished mothers and children. www.columbian.gwu.edu alumni & friends page 38
Few students, however, have taken a peace studies path quite like Lee’s. Born in South Korea, his world-view was colored by the looming threat of neighboring North Korea. “We are confronted with it all the time,” he said. “The fear of an imminent attack is always floating around you.” At GW, Lee chose to major in political science but found his interests gravitating toward peace studies. In Oh’s class, he read great thinkers from Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle to modern peace advocates like Gandhi and