Jonathan Park with his father, Woong Dal Park, and his mother, Myong Suk Park. (Photo courtesy Jonathan Park)
Jonathan Park endows an Odyssey Scholarship in honor of his parents.
Last year Jonathan Park, an MBA student at Chicago Booth and a project leader at a quasi-governmental agency in Washington, DC, established the Woong Dal Park and Myong Suk Park Odyssey Scholarship Fund. Park wanted the fund to honor the memory of his father, who died in October at age 60. He included his mother’s name in the scholarship as well because “my dad always believed in family first,” he says. “He and my mom always did everything together.”
The Odyssey Scholarships
were established in 2007 by a $100 million gift from an anonymous alumnus known only as “Homer.” More than 1,000 low- to moderate-income College students have received Odyssey Scholarships.
Jonathan Park and his father visited Mount Vernon soon after the family came to the United States. (Photo courtesy Jonathan Park)
Many Odyssey donors are College alumni, but you’re at Chicago Booth. Why give to Odyssey?
I remember looking at the Odyssey website and being impressed. There was a story about a recent Odyssey Scholar who had just graduated and was giving back to the fund already. That was really inspiring.
My dad’s background is similar to that of Odyssey Scholars. He was an exceptionally bright and kind man who grew up with little means but ended up with the opportunity to study engineering at Hanyang University, one of the top private colleges in Korea. He loved to learn and believed in achievements through hard work and merit.
After my father died, I was trying to think of a way to remember and honor him. After something like this happens, you tend to rethink your perspective on everything. In my dad’s case, money couldn’t have done anything. So what is the money for? I asked myself. What am I working for? And I thought about this scholarship, which supports students who really need it.
Was your dad supportive of your own educational achievements?
My father was instrumental in my time at Chicago Booth. Since I work in DC, I fly into Chicago every weekend. He rearranged his schedule so he could take me to the airport and pick me up. He built my desk. He was trying to teach himself English and would practice at night. I was living at home to save money, and while I was studying, he would try to be quiet and still practice his English.
What did your father do for a living?
In Korea, my dad worked for Kia Motors as a drafting section chief. He gave that up to come to the United States.
He and my mom opened up a small dry cleaning business. To be honest, they had ups and downs. They focused on providing a high-quality service and didn’t care as much about maximizing profits. As a result he had some very loyal customers. He was a very humble person and didn’t need a lot to live.
For their kids it was better. We came here when I was two. I have two older sisters. There were more opportunities for us here.
The Weekend MBA program sounds so demanding, especially since you fly in.
I think out of 100 people in my year, 80 percent fly in. Those who live near the Chicago area drive in.
I’ve had to miss weddings, birthday parties, stuff like that. But the people in my life have been understanding. Chicago Booth, and the University of Chicago in general, has a great name—they see it’s worth it.
The program can get tough, but it’s nothing compared to what my parents did. No one dreams of working at a dry cleaners. When I think about my parents doing that, it keeps things in perspective.
What’s the most valuable thing and the most surprising thing you’ve learned at Chicago Booth so far?
The most valuable thing I’ve learned is confidence. I’ve noticed that since I started, I feel more confident tackling things at work and in life. The most surprising thing is how nice everyone is. People have been very supportive ever since my dad passed away even though they have never met him or haven’t seen me in a while.
You also make time to volunteer for Venture for America.
I’m the campus ambassador for UChicago. Venture for America is like Teach for America but with start-ups. The program takes really bright graduates who would normally pursue more traditional paths—grad school, law school, consulting, banking—and puts them into cool start-ups in places like Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Providence, Rhode Island, in order to help them build things. “Things” in this case being companies.
For students, they get to try out being in a start-up, but they also get to feel good about helping revitalize a local economy. Imagine taking the talent who are creating companies in Silicon Valley right now and putting them all in Detroit. Imagine the impact that would have on Detroit’s economy. That is what Venture for America offers to students, especially ones from UChicago.
Are you interested in becoming an entrepreneur yourself?
Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, I would have said no. But now that I’ve been at Booth, I am very much considering it. Entrepreneurialism is the best way to see measurable outcomes quickly and to be able to make a difference.
After my dad passed away, I started helping my mom with her business, and I actually enjoy it. I like working with the public—that’s just my personality.
You’ve said that your father would have fit in at UChicago—why?
He would have appreciated the academic environment—the importance placed on learning and the fact that everyone is so studious. Before he passed away, my dad highly respected the professor who was teaching him English, whose day job was a professor at a local university, and so he would have held UChicago professors in similar reverence.
Hopefully this scholarship will play some small part in keeping UChicago unique. I think it has a special place in the higher education realm. I’d love for it to stay that way.
Support the Odyssey Scholarship program: With the support of trustee Gregory Wendt, AB’83, gifts of $75,000 or more will be matched 1:2. Donors can name a scholarship fund for $75,000. For more information, visit odyssey.uchicago.edu.