MERCED -- A week before his inauguration celebration, University of California at Merced Chancellor Steve Kang made a visit to his homeland.
The six-day visit last week connected Kang with South Korea's technology and university leaders to encourage exchanges with UC Merced.
Kang's wife, Mia, Vice Chancellor John Garamendi Jr. and fund-raising staffer Judy Pfitzer-Boyer accompanied him to Seoul.
The trip included visits to six universities, signing of four cooperative agreements, and meetings with officials of five multinational corporations and four government agencies.
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Kang met with 63 people during the week and attended a reception with about 3,000 alumni from all 10 UC campuses.
UC Merced has partnerships with universities in China and India, Garamendi said. Officials are looking at expanding those relationships to campuses and companies in Mexico and Canada.
Officials hope the partnerships result in faculty teaching and students learning abroad. Kang met with company executives hoping to collaborate on research projects and encouraged them to expand facilities into the Central Valley.
Kang's schedule was packed so he didn't have time to venture away from Seoul to see his siblings.
Kang, 62, was born and raised in South Korea, the oldest of five children. He attended Yonsei University in Seoul to study engineering. For his senior year, Kang ventured to Yonsei's sister university in New Jersey.
The South Korea adventure was Garamendi's first trip to the country. He said he was impressed with the "great reverence the Korean culture has for scholarship. It's very impressive."
Kang said he is the first Korean-American to head a university in America, a historical event covered substantially by South Korea's media.
Eight months after he took over UC Merced's reins, Kang will be inaugurated Tuesday with a private ceremony and other events attended by sev- eral state officials and educa- tion leaders.
The average UC Merced student might not notice benefits from the cooperatives besides enhanced research opportunities and increased diversity with visiting professors and students.
"The economy of the future is global," Garamendi said. "We need our students to have global experience."
The conference at which Kang spoke, the Global Human Resources Forum, covered his expenses for the trip. Mia Kang paid her own way, and UC Merced picked up the tab for the other two, a cost of about $6,500, which came from fund raising, Garamendi stressed.
Garamendi noticed that South Korea's "research capabilities are growing exponentially."
Kang agreed, saying the visit reminded him of the competitive edge America is losing. While America can still attract top talent from all over the world, other countries are gaining ground.
"The world is changing very rapidly, it's very dynamic," Kang said. "We as a leading nation need to be watchful, especially our young people. To compete in the future, we need to pay attention to education, prepare for global competition."
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.