Family establishes fellowship in McDonnell International Scholars Academy

Gift recognizes university’s role in distinguished graduate’s life

Ja Song in front of WashU's Brookings Hall
Ja Song was among the first Korean students to come to Washington University in the early 1960s through a collaborative agreement to train business leaders and transform business education in South Korea. (Courtesy photo)

An accomplished business professor and academic leader, Ja Song, MBA ’62, DBA ’67, left an indelible mark on higher education in his native Korea. As the 12th president of South Korea’s prestigious Yonsei University from 1992 to 1996, he effected lasting change. During his tenure, he transformed the admissions process, initiated interdisciplinary collaboration, and spearheaded the school’s first fundraising efforts, securing 100 billion won—the equivalent of about $82.3 million today. Soon after, other universities across South Korea began to follow Yonsei’s lead in these arenas.

“For Dad, it all started at WashU,” says Mr. Song’s youngest daughter, Jean Song, who lives in Honolulu. “His experience as a student there opened up his eyes to the world and the possibilities of education and set the stage for what he achieved later in life.”

Soon after Mr. Song’s death in 2019, his wife, Soonhi Song, along with her daughters, Grace Song Park and Jean Song, recognized the pivotal role Washington University played in his life by pledging $1 million to establish an endowed fellowship in his name through the Hongmosoomin Foundation. The Song Ja Fellowship in the university’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy will enable alumni of Yonsei and other South Korean universities to pursue graduate studies at WashU while preparing for global leadership.

“The purpose of this fellowship is to nurture future leaders,” says Dr. Park, a physician in Santa Barbara, California. “It will help promising individuals attend WashU and then leverage all that they’ve learned and experienced to serve the greater good, which is exactly what my dad did.”

Mr. Song and dozens of other South Korean business students and professors came to study at Washington University as a result of the Korea Project, a six-year collaboration involving the Olin Business School, Yonsei University, and Korea University. Tapped by the U.S. government, Olin helped rehabilitate and modernize business education programs in South Korea in an effort to boost the country’s languishing economy in the aftermath of the Korean War.

Ja Song Career Highlights

Faculty member, University of Connecticut

Professor, business school dean, and president, Yonsei University, Seoul

President, Myongji University, Seoul

Minister of education, South Korea

CEO, Daekyo Co. Ltd., a South Korea-based education service and publishing company

Mr. Song, who grew up in the impoverished Korean countryside, earned his MBA and doctorate in business administration at WashU. He went on to earn tenure at the University of Connecticut, where he taught for nine years before returning to South Korea to continue his career in academia and public service. All the while, he remained engaged with the WashU community, serving on the university’s International Advisory Council for Asia, offering guidance and financial resources to help launch the McDonnell Academy, and connecting with fellow alumni in Korea. The Olin School recognized his loyal service to the university and outstanding professional achievements by honoring him with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2003.

“I had the privilege of working closely with Ja Song to bring Yonsei University, Korea University, and Seoul National University into partnership with Washington University through our McDonnell International Scholars Academy in 2005,” says Chancellor Emeritus Mark S. Wrighton. “He was a very enthusiastic and effective advocate for Washington University in South Korea, and he contributed enormously to our success in building international relationships. The Ja Song Fellowship is a wonderful gift that will help preserve important partnerships in South Korea and create opportunities for talented international students who aspire to become global leaders following in the footsteps of Ja Song.”

According to his family, Mr. Song adopted a global mindset at a time when Korean society was very insular. In his life and work, he was open to different viewpoints and experiences—and their potential to enrich and improve lives. He encouraged his students and colleagues to do the same. He also believed in equal rights and advocated for women and people with disabilities. A man of strong Christian faith, he held service to society and helping others in the highest regard. At his funeral, one of his colleagues discussed Dr. Song’s frequent saying, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.”

Today, his wife and daughters hope to keep his spirit of service alive through their philanthropy and leadership. Dr. Park recently joined the advisory committee for the McDonnell Academy. “We are really proud of him and so thankful to WashU,” says Soonhi Song, a retired pediatrician. “All of the faculty and staff there were so special to us when he was a student. I think he would be thrilled to know that we are continuing to give back to the university that meant so much to him.”

Contact us to learn more about establishing a named scholarship or fellowship at Washington University.

Portrait photo of Ja Song and his family
Ja Song, fifth from left, and his family in 2016 (Courtesy photo)