From the pool to the chemistry lab, Jeremy Kim ’23 is active on all sides of campus. When he’s not at practice with the swimming and diving team or researching the polymerization of plastics, Kim is one of the co-chairs of the Korean Student Association (KSA) and works as a writing tutor and mentor at the Shapiro Center for Writing. Kim sat down with The Argus to discuss coming to the University from a STEM high school, balancing sports with academics, and planning to stay for a fifth year at Wesleyan through the BA/MA program.
The Argus: Congratulations! Why do you think you were nominated to be a WesCeleb?
Jeremy Kim: I hope that in some way I contribute to the culture at Wesleyan and the community here, and I want to believe that there are people who love me a lot and just view me in that sense.
A: How did you become interested in chemistry?
JK: My high school was very intensive in terms of STEM. Honestly, even coming to Wesleyan, I was not super passionate about doing chemistry, but I did three years’ worth of chemistry in high school, and then I did research too, and it was something I was comfortable with. I think declaring [the chemistry major] in my sophomore year and then also finding my research professor, [Assistant Professor of Chemistry] Benjamin Elling, helped me become so much more interested. And [chemistry is] definitely something that now I can say is a passion.
A: Where did you go to high school? How was that experience?
JK: I grew up in northern Jersey, which is also called Bergen County. And I went to this magnet STEM school called Bergen County Academies. It was very stressful, and I think very toxic [because] there was a lot of competition between my peers that I didn’t indulge in. It was academically really stressful and challenging, but it made me who I am today.
A: What brought you to Wesleyan?
JK: One component was swimming. I knew I could contribute a lot to the team, and I really liked the coach. And of course the open curriculum. I think it helped me push myself to things I never tried. That was something that intrigued me. What does it mean for me to take classes that I didn’t know I wanted to take?
A: Your brother is now here as well, right? What’s that like?
JK: I completely love it. Because my brother Andrew [Kim ’25] and I didn’t go to the same high school at all, the last time we went to a school together was probably middle school. During high school, I was super busy. Andrew was super busy too. But having him here, I think he and I got so much closer. And it’s just been so much fun and amazing, hanging out with him a lot more.
A: Would you say you have a couple of professors or one favorite professor from your time here at Wesleyan?
JK: I would say [Assistant Professor of the Practice in English] Lauren Silber. One of [the] first classes I took here was my first-year seminar called “Why You Can’t Write.” She was very candid and very honest about who she was as a professor and what the course was. It really inspired me to pursue writing at Wesleyan, something I had never thought I would do, coming from a STEM school and always thinking that I wasn’t a good writer.
A: Do you have a favorite class besides that one?
JK: Yeah, I can say maybe two of my favorite classes. I would say one was the “Intermediate Fiction Workshop” class I took with [Assistant Professor of English] Rachel Heng. She was the first Asian professor that I had, and I thought that was really cool. Seeing her perspective and her work in fiction writing and how she taught the class was really informative. That class was really challenging in the sense of pushing myself as a writer in terms of short stories. It was the most work I’d done [in a class], but one of the most fulfilling classes I had.
My favorite STEM class had to probably be “Physical Chem[istry] for Life Sciences.” A very daunting-sounding class, but I appreciated the professor, [Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry] Ishita Mukerji. Her passion for teaching really pushed me through a topic that I don’t have a lot of interest in, but it was very palatable for me to learn about. That class was of course a lot of work again, but enjoyable too.
A: You’re doing the Writing Certificate, right? What has that been like and what made you want to do it?
JK: When I came to college, I was interested in chemistry and Spanish, but Spanish didn’t really pan out because of the requirements. After taking Professor Silber’s class and then working for the Writing Workshop, I was like, “Oh, maybe I can try anything I can do with writing here on campus.”
At that point, it was my sophomore year. I was like, “Ah, I can’t do the English major. It’s a little too late now.” [That] year I took the “Intermediate Fiction Workshop” and I realized it was in a cluster called the Writing Certificate, and I looked up more information and treated it as a minor. And I was really happy about it because it forced me to take a lot of writing classes and see what Wesleyan offers in writing.
A: What is it like working at the Writing Workshop? Do you enjoy it?
JK: I love it. I really love tutoring, and even back home, I always tutored kids in math, chemistry, and physics. But now, being trained in what it is to be a tutor, a mentor, gave me a lot more confidence, like, “Maybe I can help people and assist them in any step in the writing process.” And that’s much easier for me compared to actually having to write.
A: Moving on to swimming, when did you start with the sport?
JK: I learned to swim maybe at age seven, but I started competitively swimming when I was about 12. In 10th grade, I took it really seriously. I changed teams and had nine practices a week, early morning practices and lifts. Here at Wesleyan, I swam for four years —I hesitate [to say that] because [of] that one COVID year I didn’t get to swim. But it’s been really fun.
A: What are your events?
JK: I swim 100-meter breaststroke, 200-meter breaststroke, and 200-meter Individual Medley (IM). This year I might swim the 400-meter IM, which is notoriously a little harder, but we will see about that.
A: What is it like heading into your final year on the team?
JK: I’m actually also planning to do the BA/MA program here. But heading into my senior year, I think it’s a good culmination. That last year as an undergraduate student, it’s special in the sense of how optimistic I am and how much fun I want to have with the team.
A: What subject do you want to do with the BA/MA?
JK: Chemistry, I want to continue the research I am doing right now. I still have to work out the details with my professor. And because of my sophomore year [when] I didn’t get to swim, I have one more year of eligibility [to swim]. So that’s still something I’m considering.
A: Turning to KSA, how did you first get involved?
JK: I have an interesting dysphoria about my Korean heritage because my high school is really Korean. That’s not a bad thing at all, but I kind of associate that [competitive nature] with a lot of the Koreans in my high school. [That] made me question a lot about my individuality coming into college. The first two years, I was really just focusing on swimming and doing my schoolwork. [Those were] the things that I really thought were my identity.
But COVID happened, and I was really reconsidering my identity as a Korean person. So I joined [KSA] my junior year. I met my seniors, who were Gloria Kang ’22 MA ’23 and Chaiyeon Lee ’22 and Brian Kim ’22. They were the reasons why I joined, and reasons why, now that I’m leading, [I want to] cultivate that community and culture. So it took me a while to realize what being Korean meant to me.
TA: Is there anything KSA-related that you’re looking forward to this year?
JK: Our biggest event is usually our membership training during fall break, where we meet new people. We get closer as a group too. The first time we had it was last year, so this fall break, I’m really excited to just build upon that and meet new people.
A: Why do you think it’s important that there are identity groups like KSA and AASC (Asian American Student Collective) for people on campus who want to stay connected with those parts of their identity?
JK: College is not easy, and I think it’s interesting in human nature to see how people can connect with similar cultures and backgrounds. I think it’s important for us to recognize that we have each other. The school supports you, but it’s so big and broad, it’s hard to support everyone. Having those groups, whether it be KSA, AASC, or any of the other amazing affinity groups here, really fosters a smaller and more intimate community. The best thing about these communities is it’s so inclusive, and I think it only fosters the positive things about what it means to be a person of color, having people to rely on and resources. I think I learned so much from upperclassmen in KSA and AASC, and I want to be that example for the people to come afterward.
A: Looking back to the past four years, is there one piece of advice you wish you had gotten as a freshman?
JK: To branch out a little bit more. I was very comfortable knowing I had a social group to come in with, which was the swim team. I’m not saying I didn’t have any other social groups, but I think I was really comfortable just doing school and swimming. And then eventually as these years pass, I’m becoming more involved in other things. I’m so happy about that. I wish that I put myself more in the affinity groups, more clubs, so that I could have met more people and known resources [that are] here on campus.
A: Has it ever been difficult to balance doing a varsity sport in addition to everything else you’re involved in?
JK: Yeah, definitely. I think these past two years have been the most interesting because, in high school, all I had to do was swim and study, right? And then those extracurriculars didn’t take up as much time. It’s been a bit challenging to manage [everything] energy-wise and time-wise. So this year is definitely another transition year, because I’ve become more involved in campus life and less academic.
TA: You touched on this a little bit, but so after graduation, you’re doing the BA/MA program, right? How has that process been going so far?
JK: I have to get a move on, definitely. But it’s good to know that I have a footing and a great relationship with my professor. The first thing that I have to do is come up with a proposal for what I’m gonna do for my next year, which is probably just gonna be the continuation of the research project that I have now.
TA: I might not fully understand it, but could you describe a little bit of the research that you’re doing?
JK: Even in my high school I focused on studying polymers—the chemistry of plastics. When I met my professor at a chemistry colloquium last year, he gave a presentation about how his goal was to make plastics more reusable, more green. What my project focuses on is on the precursors of these plastics called monomers, and finding new ways to make these monomers or different monomers so that they are more reusable. It’s really just honing the steps and making sure they’re repeatable.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jem Shin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.