Tae Hee Kim enjoyed studying Shakespeare and literature in her native South Korea. But when she took her first course in public administration, she knew she'd found her true passion.
“Shakespeare wasn’t right for me,” says Kim. “I realized I wanted to contribute to society in some way and to be part of an academic environment.”
After graduating from Konkuk University with undergraduate degrees in public administration and English and a master's in public administration, she decided to pursue doctoral studies at Rutgers after learning of the university’s diverse faculty and student body and its international reputation in her field.
This month, she will receive a Ph.D. in public administration from Rutgers' School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) and begin a tenure track position as an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Hawaii at Manoa this fall.
“Tae Hee is an accomplished instructor, both online and in the classroom,” says Marc Holzer, a Board of Governors Distinguished Professor and founding dean of SPAA, who has been Kim's adviser for six years. "She is well on the path to an outstanding academic career.”
At Hawaii - Manoa, Kim will continue her research on effective ways to reward and motivate public servants and will teach courses on human resource management and comparative studies.
Since coming to Rutgers, her work has focused on how public employees view their performance evaluations. “Whenever I’ve talked with public servants, they generally did not like the performance appraisal process,” says Kim. “In practice, it was not being seen as a benefit, and I wanted to find out why.”
Her research suggests lots of opportunity ahead. She believes public employees often do not receive enough positive feedback to remain motivated. Work needs to be done, she says, to resolve common civil service conflict – when a worker is denied a promotion because of a low civil service test score regardless of a strong performance evaluation.
Kim attributes her advancement to having found a field she loves and the guidance of her advisers. She quickly gained the faculty’s support and confidence; earned appointments as an instructor for master’s courses; and was named managing director of the school’s National Center for Public Performance, which studies performance measurement initiatives in government.
Her frequent conference appearances also enhanced her exposure and enabled her to develop a strong personal network. “For me, as an international student who needed to practice her presentation skills, it’s extremely helpful if you can go to a conference and practice in front of different audiences,” Kim says. She also appreciates conferences for the inherent constructive criticism from well-known scholars.
Still, the Ridgefield resident's chosen career direction has caused her anxiety over being separated from family and friends in South Korea for extensive periods of time. When she departs for Hawaii, she will live apart – at least temporarily – from her husband, Ik Mo An, a master’s degree candidate at SPAA. They hope their separation will not last beyond a year.
In the interim, Kim will concentrate on her new teaching role and the dynamics of public performance management.
“In over four decades of work in this area, I have seldom encountered a doctoral student who is as knowledgeable, analytical and dedicated to scholarly pursuits,” says Holzer. “Her mastery of this area is so thorough that she has earned our trust as a colleague.”