As the director of the University of Arizona's John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, Dr. Soyeon Shim has managed multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns, built a world-renowned academic program, and mentored two decades of students. She is honored in the Women's Plaza of Honor by the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences for her accomplishments leading the Norton School since 1999.
Soyeon was born in Seoul, Korea, to what she calls a 'typical, middle class family.' The third of four children, and the first daughter, Soyeon's father celebrated her birth. He boasted that he had 'paid the boy's price from the hospital' for Soyeon, alluding to the fact that families usually paid doctors double the amount for the birth of a son. Although Korean society prized sons at that time, Soyeon's father never wavered in his support to her or her younger sister, and so, she says, 'I grew up with that notion that [we] were as good as brothersÌÐ and [were] expected to go out into the world and do something important.'
Soyeon completed both a B.S. and M.S. in Human Ecology from Yonsei University in Seoul. After teaching high school consumer science for one year, she decided to move to Knoxville, Tennessee, to pursue graduate studies at the University of Tennessee. Soyeon says she decided to study in the US almost in the blink of an eye: 'One day I just woke up and thought, ÌÇthere must be more to life, somehow, that I need to explore.''
Soyeon met her husband, also from Korea, while working on her PhD in Tennessee, and after finishing her degree, they moved to Colorado. There, Soyeon taught for four years at Colorado State University as an assistant professor, where her husband finished his PhD in engineering. In 1990, Soyeon and her husband were offered jobs at UA, and the family moved to Tucson.
Soon after Soyeon joined the UA, she was asked to become division chair of Retailing and Consumer Sciences, one of the two programs within the Norton School. As chair, one of Soyeon's major initiatives has been to create a branding for the division, including a new name, the creation of a 'center' concept (today known as Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing) to build relationships with the retailing industry. As well, Soyeon developed a global retailing program at UA, crafting a coursework and research foci that has brought the program to the forefront of the discipline.
In 1999, Soyeon was appointed as the director of the Norton School, which consists of two academic programs, including family studies and human development as well as retailing and consumer sciences. One of the most significant accomplishments of Soyeon's directorship has been the $25 million fundraising campaign to construct a new building for the school, a campaign to which over 2,000 people and corporations donated. The key to Soyeon's leadership and fundraising success, she says, is a combination of constant, focused planning and the development of long-term partnerships with donors. She says that development is about knowing 'where you are going,' telling that story to donors, matching their interests, and then showing them what you've done with their support. Soyeon has also taken the time to bring her skills to other departments within the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, meeting with faculty and department heads to support fundraising and the development of donor relationships.
Soyeon also credits the Norton School's success to their focus on giving students the tools that they will need to be successful in their future professions. To further this goal, the school is now working to deliver education programs to place-bound, culturally-bound, or economically-bound students, including the development of online degrees that reflect local needs in multiple Arizona communities.
Outside of work, Soyeon and her husband enjoy hiking in the Southwest. The couple has two children: their daughter is finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago, and their son is graduating from high school in Tucson, headed to Harvard college in the fall.
Through her accomplishments, Soyeon says that she had to overcome many challenges, the foremost of those being her transition to the US. But, she is quick to say, 'Each challenge presents new opportunities.' Indeed, Soyeon has demonstrated throughout her career an astute ability to build opportunities for not only herself, but for her students and for the Norton School as a whole.