Columbia Alumni Reflect on HRAP: Junghwa “Sam” Lee

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

In honor of HRAP’s 35th anniversary, ISHR has asked Columbia University alumni to share their memories of the program. The final alumnus to be featured in this series is Junghwa “Sam” Lee who earned a master’s in International Development Education from Teachers College in 2012. She is a learning design expert at McKinsey & Co. 

My journey began as a graduate student, from Seoul, South Korea, stepping onto the bustling campus of Columbia University, with a heart full of dreams and a somewhat lofty ambition to make a change in the world through education. My graduate studies in international educational development focused on learning design and program approaches within an international development context. I thought I could 'save the world' one lesson at a time—classic graduate student optimism.
However, my defining professional experience unfolded during my participation in the Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP) at Columbia University in 2011. As the capacity building program coordinator, I was responsible for planning and delivering workshops and fundraising events for 12 Human Rights Advocates, collaborating with Columbia faculty and industry partners in New York. I also managed their week-long field trip in Washington D.C., organizing hands-on professional sessions with human rights organizations. This marked my first professional chapter in the city and transformed me from an eager graduate student to a professional deeply committed to empowering global leaders. 
Under the mentorship of Stephanie Grepo, I gained invaluable insights into program leadership and education. Her guidance was not only foundational in shaping my work ethics and practices but also ingrained a deep-seated commitment to leadership and education in me. Working alongside her offered me a hands-on apprenticeship in effective program management and leadership.
Deepening relationships with HRAP Advocates both during and after the program broadened my worldview. Discussions and workshops with Advocates from diverse backgrounds exposed me to the varied and complex challenges that different global populations face–from protecting women’s rights in post-conflict regions to navigating the challenges LGBTQIA+ communities encounter worldwide. These interactions were more than educational; they served as a repository of rich, real-world stories of resilience and growth. The post-program successes and enduring changes enacted by my Advocate friends in their communities profoundly inspired me. 
This immersion was instrumental in uncovering the critical need for upskilling and providing platforms for these global leaders to realize their professional and personal aspirations. It reinforced my role in creating learning opportunities that catalyze transformative change, steering me towards designing learning programs tailored to the unique needs of leaders and organizations. HRAP thus became a pivotal moment in my career, laying the foundation for my mission to empower global leaders for their future.
Following HRAP, my journey continued with roles at the United Nations and various INGOs, where I focused on developing learning programs that addressed the multifaceted challenges confronting our world today. This chapter was instrumental in shaping my commitment to building lifelong learning programs for busy professionals worldwide, driven by firsthand observations of global adversities. 
My journey then steered towards learning innovations and technologies, starting at Columbia Business School’s digital executive education programs and subsequently at an EdTech company. There, I leveraged product methodologies and cutting-edge technologies to craft learning solutions that cater to the unique needs of working professionals and their organizations, challenging the 'one-size-fits-all' approach to professional development. Currently, as part of the learning design and innovation team at a global firm, I continue my quest to empower leaders from all parts of the world with the digital and technological leadership skills necessary to navigate future disruptions.
As we celebrate the 35th anniversary of HRAP, I look back on my journey with immense gratitude and pride. From contributing to the program's 25th-anniversary logo to being a proud working mom of a six-year-old son, my path is a testament to the transformative power of learning, leadership, and HRAP's enduring legacy.