As a result of the work of a dedicated group of Cornell students, the University will be hosting the national Korean American Students Conference (KASCON) this weekend on campus. Established at Princeton University in 1986, KASCON is an annual convention composed of undergraduate students from around the country and even the world.
This year at the 17th annual KASCON, the theme will be “Inspiring Progress for the Next 100 Years.” The theme is a reference to this year’s centennial tribute to the first wave of Korean immigration to the United States.
According to Dan Keh ’03, associate director of KASCON, “In two words, the easiest way to summarize it [KASCON] is a leadership and service conference.”
A diverse group of speakers and performers will come to Cornell as part of the conference.
Several of these lectures are open to the entire Cornell community, while others require pre-registration. Information released by the board of KASCON indicates that around 500 people are expected to attend this conference, which will last until Sunday morning.
According to Angie Kim ’03, media manager for KASCON, students and others who wanted to attend all of the lectures and other events throughout the weekend paid a fee. Kim said that “30 percent are Cornell registrants,” while others are coming from areas as close as Binghamton and Albany, others from as far away as England and South Korea.
According to Keh, who is also president of Cornell’s Korean Student Association (KSA), many of the speakers were eager to come to Cornell for the conference. “Our KSA has a very good reputation with professionals and people who are considered to be leaders in the Korean American community, and so our managers really know a lot about what is going on and who to contact,” Keh said.
Jason Choi ’03, executive director for KASCON, said that the board worked to develop ideas for topics and speakers that would address current events and issues. “One of the criteria for this year was we wanted to bring to the front what are the most important issues, currently,” Choi said.
Choi added that, “one thing that we want to tell the participants, who will mostly be Korean Americans, but also to the Cornell community, is that these issues are not really Korean American issues, they are really universal issues because they deal with civil rights, human rights and culture.”
The lectures and events will begin tomorrow in Bailey Hall at 10 a.m. Opening ceremonies will include speeches from the student executive directors; Susan Murphy, vice president of student and academic services; Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen; and possibly even an appearance from New York Governor George Pataki. The opening ceremonies will close with a speech by Dr. Paul Jhin, the director of planning, policy, and analysis for the Peace Corps.
During the conference, speakers will include JuJu Chang , ABC news correspondent; John Liu, New York City Councilman; Leon Sigal, director of the northeast Asia cooperative security project at the social science research council in New York City and Soon Ok Lee, a former prisoner in North Korea at Kaechon prison, among others. Additionally, Tom Coffman, filmmaker and director of the PBS documentary “Arirang: The Korean American Journey Part I.” According to board members, Coffman may be using part of the KASCON conference in his upcoming sequel documentary.
Keh said that certain speakers were chosen for the conference because of their areas of expertise and their wide appeal. “The reasons we chose these as opposed to other lecturers is because these are the most appealing to the mainstream. Some of the lectures we will have will target Korean Americans. It will be a discussion of what our communities are like. These are the more universal-type lectures.”
Kim said that the board put quite a bit of time and effort into their search for the speakers and topics for the conference. “We searched for the best of the best in every area. We sat down at board meetings thinking about different topics we wanted at the KASCON conference,” she said.
A variety of topics will be addressed. In the opening lectures, topics include the current issues in North Korea, life as an Asian American living in America, the political state of Asian America, World War II comfort women, and global sex trafficking.
In addition to the lectures being presented, there will be a number of other activities available for attendees. Performance artist Sung Rho will be featured as part of entertainment scheduled for Friday night. A career fair exposition will be held on Saturday and a fundraising banquet will be held for the World Food Program of the United Nations. In addition, there will be a bone marrow donation drive, as well as voter registration signups.
According to Keh, a large number of Cornell alumni will be returning to the campus for the event. “They’ve been really supportive. The bridging of the different generations at Cornell is pretty cool,” he said. Both Choi and Keh expressed their gratitude to the administration who have supported the executive board in planning KASCON.
“We appreciate all the help we’ve gotten from the school, starting with Hunter Rawlings and Dean Hubbel, they’ve really been supportive, as have all of their staff,” Keh said.
This year, the conference has already been featured in a variety of magazines and even on Korean television and radio stations in the New York and New Jersey metro area. Currently, the nonprofit Mirae Foundation, Inc. serves as an advisory organization to the KASCON conference and the students planning it. According to Kim, the Mirae Foundation “wanted to continue the KASCON conference, because it started seventeen years ago, and there was no umbrella organization that was going to take care of it; that was going to carry it on from year to year.”
Students from Cornell won a bid to host the conference in Ithaca. The conference was planned entirely by students, who underwent a selection process to be part of the advisory board. “The way we selected the board was that we had an election on campus. It actually went from something crazy like four in the afternoon to 11 at night. It was a long, grueling election. It also had group building activities with it, so it showed your character,” Kim said.
According to Kim, “the voting [for the student board] was open to the whole Cornell campus, but the problem was that not everyone knew what KASCON was.” Members of the KASCON elected student board also include John Keh ’05, Erin Chu ’03, Jiaeh Kim ’04, Christopher Hur ’05, Danny Lee ’03, Justin Jang ’06, Moses Song ’05, and Elizabeth Cho grad. Each of the students works on a particular part of the convention and heads a committee of other students.
“We’ve all on the board been involved in some different ways,” Choi said. Part of the process of making the event a success involved large amounts of fundraising on the parts of the students. According to Kim, “our projected budget was $100,000. We were going back and forth to New York City visiting corporations and making budget proposals, asking for money. We went to all these centennial celebrations, we went to City Hall, we went to all of these different coalitions and fundraising events.” Kim added, “we’ve been brushing shoulders with the best.”
Corporate sponsors for the conference include The Centennial Committee of Korean Immigration, Samsung Electronics, Accenture, Cheil Communications America, The Korea Times and many others. Members of the executive planning board said KASCON was an incredible opportunity for those participating in it.
Keh summed up the work of the board. “In the end, when everythi
ng clears, I think the best part is just that we went through it. We’ve learned so much about ourselves and the people we work with, people who are going to be coming. I think it’s an experience that we’ll probably never have the opportunity to have again. It’s definitely made my Cornell career a lot different.”
Archived article by Kate Cooper