Prof. Jaehong Kim Wins 2017 Ackerman Award for Teaching and Mentoring

For Jaehong Kim, it’s not enough to get his students to understand the concepts of chemistry and mathematics behind environmental engineering. It’s when they also become passionate about what they’ve learned that he knows he has succeeded.

“I want to be a good teacher, but I want to be a really great mentor,” said Kim, professor and chair of chemical & environmental engineering. “There’s a difference. There’s knowledge transfer versus inspiration.” 

This kind of dedication to his students is one of the many reasons Kim has been selected to receive the 2017 Ackerman Award for Teaching and Mentoring. Made possible by a generous gift from SEAS alum Robert W. Ackerman '60, this annual award, which includes a $5,000 cash prize, recognizes outstanding teaching and mentoring as evidenced by the faculty member's impact on students.

Kim brings to the classroom a contagious passion for solving environmental problems and helping others. He sees his extensive knowledge and experience in environmental engineering as a means to improve the world, and he inspires these same motivations in his students as well.

“I love teaching,” he said. “I love research also, but if you just want to do research, you can do that elsewhere. Here, at a university, the primary function as a professor is actually teaching.”

Each year, his course, Environmental Technology in the Developing World (ENVE 410) inspires students to spend their spring breaks abroad, and work together to bring clean water to people who need it. The trips (so far, to Nicaragua and India) allow the students to test their skills and knowledge in the field. More importantly, it gives the students a chance to see how their work can benefit others. 

Many nomination letters for Prof. Kim from students past and present praised his unique teaching methods, including these trips, where students gained experience solving environmental challenges in the real world. 

But Kim has shown his students that they don’t have to go to travel to far-flung locales to gain perspective; sometimes it just takes a trip to the college dining halls. Each semester, Kim makes sure to have lunch with each of his students individually. In one nominating letter, a student recalled a lunch with Kim that recharged the humanitarian ambitions she had when first arriving at Yale: “That conversation with him helped me remember the freshman who wanted to save the world. It helped me remember why I chose to do environmental engineering.”

Another student wrote of her initial skepticism about a course called “ENVE 377 Water Quality Control” and whether it would hold much excitement for her. But she soon found herself an active and engaged participant in lessons on sometimes laborious water chemistry and mass balances. 

“He did this through an interactive teaching style, occasional jokes, two-minute stretch breaks, and, when New Haven weather was favorable, outdoor lectures with a rolling marker board.”

Kim said he knows he has done his job when students not only demonstrate their knowledge of environmental engineering, but ask themselves how they can help others with it. 

“Of course my primary job is to deliver knowledge, and I think Yale students are all good at absorbing the knowledge,” said Kim. “What is more important for their education is to inspire them with motivation and passion.”