History of Korean Heritage Room

Inception of Korean Heritage Room Project

The Pittsburgh Korean community had expressed interest in creating the Korean Heritage Room (KHR) early on through sporadic and informal conversations. However, in 2007, the official KHR project was initiated by Dr. Kwan Il Lee, who practiced medicine in the Greater Pittsburgh area, to establish the KHR as a tribute to the heritage of Korea. Some leaders of the Korean community in the area, including Professor Hong Koo Kim, Professor Sang Yeon Cho, Professor Sung Wha Oh at the University of Pittsburgh, and Professor Myung Shik Jhon at Carnegie Mellon University, joined Dr. Lee to discuss the concept of the KHR.  Encouraged by support from community leaders such as Young Il Yoon from the Korean Association of Greater Pittsburgh (KAGP), Ms. Kyung Park, and Ms. Myungwoo Dawn Lee, the interim committee presented the first draft of the KHR plan in July 2007 to Ms. E. Maxine Bruhns, Director of the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Shortly after, the KHR Committee was officially established with Dr. Lee as the Chair. Eleven members were elected as the Committee, including Ms. Lee, Professor Jhon, Mr. Ryong Shik Chun (President of KAGP). Ms. Jung-hwa Oh, and Ms. Jong Gee Kang. Then the Committee met with Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg and Vice Provost Robert F. Pack to request an assignment of the KHR and Room 304 in the Cathedral of Learning was officially approved as the site of the KHR in September 2007.

Raising Public Awareness and Fundraising

During 2007-2010, various activities were carried out. One of the aims was to raise funds to support the KHR project that was then believed to require $570,000. Furthermore, the Committee decided to promote Korean culture and heritage throughout Greater Pittsburgh communities for present and future generations.

The Committee produced a DVD, brochures, flyers, letters and the official website to reach out to Korean communities in the Greater Pittsburgh area and beyond. The first public fundraising effort was joining the Nationality Rooms Holiday Open House in December 2007. The event was followed by several others including a silent auction as the meeting of the Korean Association of Greater Pittsburgh (February 2008), the Pirrsburgh Korean Youth Concert (May 2008), the Korean NOW dance performance (October 2008), the Nationality Rooms Holiday Open House (December 2008), the Korean Festival (September 2009), and more.

At the same time, the Committee introduced the project to the media, local religious and educational organizations, and to the Korean University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association (KPAA). When David Kim, an international business leader, joined the Committee as Vice Chair in October 2009, he brought vigorous and strategic fundraising plans to the Committee. The Committee leaders made several trips to South Korea to meet the Korean media, government officials, academic and business leaders, and members of KPAA. By the end of 2008, the Committee raised $32,000 through individual supporters. To achieve the funding goal, the Committee also submitted a grant proposal, in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh, to the Korean Foundation. In February 2009, the Korea Foundation reached a favorable decision to provide $200,000.

Architecture and Design

Meanwhile, through Mr. Min Ho Han at the Ministry of Culture in South Korea, the Committee contacted Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation, a non-profit organization established to preserve Korean cultural heritage. During a trip to South Korea in 2009, the Committee met with Chairwoman of Arumjigi Yeon Gyun Shin and Director Young Suk Jang to discuss selection of the design of the KHR and fundraising possibilities. In July 2009, the Arumjigi team with two candidate architects visited Pitt and met with the University architect for a briefing of requirements related to the project. Ms. Minah Lee of Coparch Studio in Seoul was eventually selected as the primary architect and later Professor Bong Ryol Kim of Korea National University of Arts joined her as an architect as well.

In February 2012, Minah Lee, Mr. Young Suk Jang of Arumjigi, and Professor Bong Ryol Kim returned to Pitt to present a detailed design of the KHR to the Pitt contingency and the U.S. architects including Mr. Park Rankin of the University and Mr. Kenneth Lee of McLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni. The overall design concept of the KHR room was well-received, and only a few minor details were yet to be determined.

Leadership Change

More financial resources had been required as time passed: the estimates rose from $570,000 in 2009 to $852,000 in 2012. In the midst of fundraising challenges, the Committee faced leadership and organizational changes. Due to personal reasons, Dr. Lee stepped down in May 2010 and Mr. David Kim succeeded him as interim Chair. The Committee was finally reestablished when Dr. Sang C. Park, who had been a Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine since 1972, joined as Co-Chair with Mr. Kim. Under the new leadership, the Committee was reorganized in order to embark on the construction of the KHR expeditiously given time and financial constraints. Professor Hong Koo Kim was assigned as Executive Vice-Chair, Professor Sang Yeon Cho as Treasurer, and Ms. Po La Rhee as Secretary for the new Committee.

Construction and Final Thrust for Fundraising

For the first task, the Co-Chairs Dr. Park and Mr. Kim finalized the terms and conditions after a series of talks with the stakeholders and secured the grant of $200,000 from the Korea Foundation in November 2011. Later in 2014, an additional $50,000 grant was received from the Korea Foundation, thus totaling $250,000. Besides, they locked in a corporate donation of $150,000 from Poongsan Corporation, one of the world’s largest fabricated nonferrous metal companies, during 2011-2012.

The Committee also continued to spread the word and ask for support. The KHR website was reinforced in 2012 and numerous fundraising campaigns were conducted. Notably, a fundraising charity dinner with Franco Harris in August 2012 raised funds from the local donors in the U.S. and further raised $20,000 from POSCO America Corporation, one of the world’s leading steel companies.

From Korea, a $30,000 donation from the Korean University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association (KPAA) and $5,000 donation from Ms. Soon Hee Sul for the LED monitor was received. In addition, Ms. Min Jung Invernizzi, a friend of Yeon Gyun Shin, Chairwoman of Arumjigi, made a generous donation of $100,000 for the KHR project. Thanks to arduous work of the Committee and invaluable supports from generous donors on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, fundraising was finally completed in 2015 and construction began. A grand total of about $850,000, which was estimated by the end of 2014 for the completion of the project, had been raised; contributions from South Korea amounted to about $615,000 and the U.S. donations about $235,000.

The KHR construction itself has also been quite complex and painstaking. The efforts to build an authentic traditional Korean classroom at Pitt were meticulous and required substantial expenditures. All the construction materials were procured and crafted in various regions in South Korea by highly skilled Korean carpentry artisans. Then they were shipped to the construction site in Pittsburgh. Those same artisans came on site to complete the traditional Korean structure. And the furniture of students and teacher’s desks and chairs were made in South Korea and shipped as well.

Completion and Dedication

The KHR was finally completed in late October 2015. The room was dedicated to the University of Pittsburgh on November 15, 2015, as the 30th room of the Nationality Rooms Program of the University of Pittsburgh.

New Committee Launched

In the following year, a new KHR Committee was elected. As a member of the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs (NRIEP), it supports NRIEP’s intercultural events and exchange programs including scholarships for students and faculty to study in South Korea. In so doing, it strives to raise the awareness of Korean cultural heritage in Western Pennsylvania and beyond and promote Korean studies at Pitt.



Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh

In 1921, John Gabhert Bowman became the University’s 10th Chancellor. In order to house the WWI returning students, he began to plan a tall tower whose parallel lines, never meeting, would symbolize the fact that learning is unending.

In 1924, 97,000 school children contributed a dime, which they had earned, to buy a brick in the tall building.

Excavation for the tower began on September 27, 1926. That same year, Chancellor Bowman asked Ruth Crawford Mitchell to visit the city’s ethnic groups and invite them to create rooms on the first floor which would tell of the “good things they had brought to America”.

The Cathedral of Learning, the tallest academic structure of Gothic style in the Western hemisphere (535 feet) was completed in 1937. At that time, the Nationality Rooms Committee chairpersons placed the following words engraved on a copper plate in the building’s cornerstone.

Faith and peace are in their hearts. Good will has brought them together. Like the Magi of ancestral traditions and the shepherds of candid simplicity, they offer their gifts of what is precious, genuine and their own, to truth that shines forever and enlightens all people.

Since then, 29 Nationality and Heritage Rooms have been installed between 1938 and 2012. Their unique concepts and cultural displays attract nearly 40,000 local and international visitors each year. The rooms are of museum quality but also serve as fully functioning classrooms. Thus many students have the opportunity to appreciate the ornate, cultural designs while studying and learning.

The Nationality Room Committees also support intercultural exchange programs and other activities, such as scholarships for students and faculty to study abroad. On various traditional and religious holidays, the rooms are also adorned with decorations unique to each nation.