BY KEN MOCHIZUKI
Examiner Assistant Editor
Washington State Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, named chairman of the newly formed Senate Higher Education Committee last month, said education is the “equalizer of all issues.”
Shin knows the value of education. Born Ho Bom Shin in World War II-era Korea, his mother died when he was 4 and his father abandoned him, leaving Shin in the care of his grandmother. At age 6, knowing he was “not wanted” in that household, he ran away, living almost the next decade on the streets of Seoul. He said he still has vivid memories of those years: sleeping on street corners, train stations, bus depots – “anywhere with a roof”; begging for food and eating scraps from tables, eating discards from markets during the summer, catching rats and eating them during the winter.
“You do anything when you’re hungry,” Shin, 71, said.
In 1950, he landed a job as an “errand boy” for seven U.S. Army officers, he said, with duties including shining shoes and doing laundry. He recalled one time when he was alone in the woods, crying. One of the U.S. Army officers he worked for, dentist Ray Paull, approached him and told Shin that seeing him cry was the same as watching one of his own sons cry. Three months later, when Shin was 16, Paull offered to adopt him and take him to the United States.
“I was shocked,” Shin recounted. “He would take me, with a Korean face? Why me?”
Shin then grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah with new parents and three younger brothers, changing his first name to the last name of his adoptive father. Relations were fine with his family members as he and his new brothers “played together and fought together,” he said.
However, he also remembered “all white” 1950s Salt Lake City and the isolation, prejudice and discrimination he experienced during the course of some simple acts as being refused a haircut. Knowing little English and having never been educated in Korea, Shin was then too old for an American school. He learned from his parents and a tutor, earning his GED in 18 months.
“I was going to conquer my challenges by studying hard,” Shin said.
He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University (BYU), a master’s in policy and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh, and a master’s and Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington (UW). He taught history, with an emphasis on East Asian history, and international relations at the University of Maryland, BYU, UW and Shoreline Community College.
Shin served in the Washington State House of Representatives, 21st District, from 1993-1995, ran unsuccessfully for U.S. representative in 1994 and Washington state lieutenant governor in 1996, and was elected to his current state senate seat in 1998.
Now, for the upcoming 2007 state legislative session, Shin is going to work towards assisting Washington state and its students to conquer challenges by studying hard.
The 21st District Shin represents includes the cities of Woodway, Edmonds, Mukilteo and portions of Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Everett. The major issues in his district composed largely of “working folks,” he said, include the “quality, access and affordability” of education, the traffic congestion problems to get to downtown Seattle, and health coverage since he represents “a lot of retired people,” he said.
Last legislative session, Shin served as the chair of the Senate International Trade & Economic Development Committee. This upcoming session, he will still be a member of and serve as advisor to that committee, and continue as vice chair of the Agriculture & Rural Development Committee and chair of the Higher Education Committee, which Senate Democrats formed out of the Early Learning, K-12 & Higher Education Committee.
The reason for the new committee is to “allow higher education advocates including Shin the time to explore viable solutions to a report released recently by the National Conference of State Legislatures outlining the crisis in lax post-secondary funding and other performance problems,” read a statement from Shin’s office. Shin said public education, including higher education, will be a high priority during the 2007 legislative session.
Shin has served as a volunteer interpreter for the Washington state governor’s office on its trips to Asia since 1975. He is now a frequent delegate on Gov. Christine Gregoire’s trade missions that have included trips to Taiwan, China and South Korea. Shin is fluent in Korean, Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin) and German.
“China and India are the big shots of the 21st century, and we have to compete with them,” he said. “I’m deeply concerned about our ability to compete globally.”
To that end, Shin said action must be taken on school dropouts and the lack of emphasis on math and science. He agrees with and will work on Washington Learns, the governor’s initiative to examine and coordinate public education from kindergarten through post-secondary education (education after high school) – aligning education to meet the high-tech needs of the 21st century.
“We need to make it possible for all students to go to college,” he said, “and that it is affordable and accessible.” As chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, he said he will work for more state funding for higher education.
He emphasized the inclusion of community colleges, “making sure that the degree programs they offer will meet current and future business demand,” he said. He is a proponent for students to take classes and obtain more college credits while still in high school, thus saving the state money since students “will not stay in college too long,” Shin said.
For Washington state to remain competitive, Shin sponsored and did get passed the Customized Work Force Training bill during the 2006 legislative session. The bill, intended to attract overseas and out-of-state companies to relocate in Washington state, provided $4.5 million to the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges to train 1,000 to 1,200 “ready-for-employment workers” – “we train employees for them at state expense,” Shin said.
Taxes paid by the companies sustain the program through a revolving fund. Four out-of-state companies have made use of the program in 2006 with about 350 students involved so far, he said.
“We live in a high-tech society,” Shin said. “We need thinkers in the 21st century.”