Alumni Spotlight Q & A:
Where are you from, Eunsang?
Originally from Bucheon (부천), South Korea.
What was your major and who was your adviser?
Civil and Environmental Engineering, Ph.D. 2020. I studied surface hydrology and snow remote sensing for enhanced flood prediction, water resources management, and infrastructure design. My adviser was Dr. Jennifer Jacobs at CEE and ESRC.
Why did you choose UNH?
When I was a senior undergraduate at Hanyang University (HYU; Seoul, South Korea), the school supported me in visiting northeastern U.S. universities abroad through their program, “Global Frontier.” Dr. Minha Choi, a UNH alumnus (Ph.D. ‘06), was a professor and advisor to our team for this program. He recommended UNH as one of the schools to visit, which my team members visited in late summer 2009. We interviewed several EOS Korean students and postdocs and heard about their research and life at UNH. It was at that time that I decided I wanted to study there. After five years since my visit (2.5 years military service plus my M.S. with Dr. Choi), I chose UNH to pursue my Ph.D. in Civil Engineering in the fall of 2015.
What were your favorite courses and why? Which professors had the greatest impact on you?
I enjoyed the Statistical Hydrology with Dr. Jennifer Jacobs and the Principles of Hydrology with Dr. Anne Lightbody. They were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the courses. I was very impressed by their passion and engagement with students. As my Ph.D. committee members, they guided me to successfully complete my dissertation with valuable comments and support. They had a great impact on me, helping me improve my research and teaching philosophy.
What was student life like? What did you think of the campus and extracurricular activities?
I lived on campus for half of my Ph.D., which was three years (Babcock and Forest Park apartments), and off campus at Newmarket Mills. I think Durham and its surrounding towns have a fantastic living and learning environment, particularly for international students. My family really enjoyed the mountains, beaches, and parks in Portsmouth, Kittery, York, etc. For extracurricular activities, I was a leader of UNH Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF), which allowed me to have amazing relationships with other graduate students and scholars outside of my department at UNH.
What was the biggest transitional issue you faced when you started at UNH?
As an international student, this was my first time living in a foreign country. When I started at UNH in 2015, I was about to marry my girlfriend, Sera (now my wife). After completing my first semester (fall 2015), I went back to Korea, got married, and came back to N.H. with her. Thus, my newlywed life with her was at UNH in a foreign country. That was a big transitional issue for Sera and me, but eventually brought us closer together.
What is your current position and what do you like best about it? Why is your work important?
I’m a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and University of Maryland, College Park. Originally I was supposed to move to Maryland, however, I was able to work remotely due to the pandemic with a full capability to use NASA computing resources – which is great. I am staying and working from my home in Newmarket now. Fortunately this allows me to continually work with UNH colleagues, including field campaigns and helping graduate students!
Seasonal snow plays a significant role in Earth’s water and energy cycle. I’m currently working on developing model simulations to assess the benefits of a future satellite mission concept. Since there is no NASA mission specifically focusing on seasonal snow and its change, I believe my work at GSFC plays a key role in progressing a future snow satellite mission concept.
What are your future career plans?
I’m happy with my current work at NASA GSFC and I’ve enjoyed learning from my PI and colleagues. I love doing research, but I like interacting with students too. In a couple of years I will be pursuing a faculty position in U.S. or South Korea to develop my research group.
How did UNH contribute to your career and where you are now? Looking back on your time spent as a UNH grad student, what are some of your best memories?
UNH provided me with great mentors and research peers. My M.S. advisor, Dr. Minha Choi, is a UNH alumnus (Ph.D. ‘06) and the current PI at NASA GSFC, Dr. Carrie Vuyovich, is also a UNH alumna (Ph.D. ‘16). UNH also provided generous financial support, including a '15-16 College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) fellowship, '18 Summer Teaching Fellowship, and '19-20 Dissertation Year Fellowship.
One of my best memories was when I first taught undergraduate students in laboratory classes of Fluid Mechanics as a TA. Even though it was pretty tough with my broken English, I did my best to teach and help the students understand the material. At the end of the class, the students said they really enjoyed the lab class and expressed their gratitude with a thank-you card – which encouraged me to be confident in my ability.
Another valuable memory was my participation in the BLM movement. Dr. Jacobs' group took June 10, 2020 off to participate in the “ShutDownSTEM” campaign, and Sera and I wanted to do something to stand with the movement and speak out. We decided to do a one-person protest and stood with a sign at UNH’s Main Street. This was a special experience for us to be a part of UNH community, as well as a STEM member supporting others.
I would like to tell other students to identify important research questions and think big picture, such as, 'Why is my research significant, what research gaps exist, and how does my research fill the gaps and help our community and society?'
Any advice for undergrads/grad students who are conducting research?
Try to actively engage with people in the field. I’ve learned so much through that. If someone gives you thoughtful and/or critical comments on your work at conferences or the review process, reach out and thank them. If you’re unsure what your peers or editors want, engage in conversation. If someone writes a paper you like – reach out, let them know, and ask questions.
What can be improved so that other students conducting research have an improved experience?
In the early years of my Ph.D. I conducted something related to research, but I didn’t have any clear research questions in my mind. That made me unsure about how my research impacts the field and society. I would like to tell other students to identify important research questions and think big picture, such as, "Why is my research significant, what research gaps exist, and how does my research fill the gaps and help our community and society?"
What makes you proud to be affiliated with UNH?
I met many UNH EOS alumni at GSFC. Many of them play key roles in various NASA science programs. I had a similar experience at AGU when I helped at the UNH booth as a graduate representative. These moments made me so proud to be a part of UNH, and I continue to realize the fact that UNH EOS is a world-leading institute in the field.
What impact do you hope your work has on future generations?
One of my research interests is climate change impact on future water resources and extreme events. Climate change is a threat to everyone, but socially and economically disadvantaged groups face the greatest risks, depending on where they live, their income, health, language barriers, and limited access to resources. As a hydrologist, I hope that my work enhances our understanding of hydrologic cycles and future snow, improves predictability of water supply and extreme events (e.g., floods and drought), and helps the disadvantaged groups become safer.
Do you have a website and are you on social media?
If you'd like more information on my research, please check out these media articles and interviews referencing my work:
Are you or is someone you know an alum who conducted research with us? Want to be featured in an upcoming Alumni Spotlight? We'd love to connect! Please email Rebecca.Irelan@unh.edu with details.