Because of Kenyon, Simon Yoo found his vocation—and the means to make dreams come true for future students
It's been twenty years since a Kenyon chemistry professor recommended that Simon Yoo '91 reconsider his plans to attend medical school after a chemistry lab assignment went awry. It wasn't the only life-altering Kenyon moment for Yoo, a first-generation Korean American who now leads two investment banking teams for the world's largest financial services firm, and who recently pledged $50,000 to start a scholarship fund for first-generation American students.
The first moment came when Yoo received a generous scholarship to Kenyon, fulfilling the dream his parents had when they immigrated to the United States: to pursue a better future for their two children. Yoo's parents worked hard-his father as a minister and his mother as a seamstress-but without financial aid, Yoo's Kenyon education would have been unattainable. And without a Kenyon education, Yoo says, his career path "would have hardly been possible."
"In high school I got straight As by cramming for exams," Yoo says. "When I got to Kenyon I quickly found myself completely surprised by how motivated, intelligent, and prepared other students were."
In time, however, the Kenyon experience gave Yoo the confidence to apply to and succeed at a top-tier business school. "The educational experience was absolutely first-rate," he says of his undergraduate years. As he later discovered in business school, "Kenyon was not as well known as Princeton or Harvard, but I felt as prepared as any of those people."
Kenyon was the kind of environment in which chemistry professor James Pappenhagen could turn Yoo's failed experiment to identify an unknown substance-he thought the item in question was a vegetable, when in fact it was mineral-into an opportunity to reexamine his preconceived career goals. And where faculty like professors Kim McMullen (English), Tim Shutt (humanities), and Dick Trethewey (economics) could stimulate Yoo's intellectual curiosity and inspire him to pursue a double major in English and economics.
After Yoo graduated, the Kenyon alumni network helped him secure his first job at Mellon Bank in New York. He then attended the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and became an investment banker, joining what was then called Salomon Smith Barney and is now a part of Citigroup. Today he is a managing director at the firm's Japanese investment banking joint venture, Nikko Citigroup, in Tokyo.
Recently Yoo and his wife, Sumiyo Sakaguchi, pledged $50,000 to establish the Reverend Jeremiah and Hellen Yoo Scholarship in honor of his parents. The impact of the couple's gift was doubled, literally, by an anonymous donor who offered to match two scholarship gifts made to Kenyon before June 30.
The scholarship will be awarded to a first-generation American student with outstanding intellectual curiosity who could not afford to attend Kenyon without financial aid.
"This scholarship is our small way of saying thanks to the College and helping to make a small but meaningful difference for others," Yoo says.