Eunkyoung Shim, University Faculty Scholar and Goodnight Early Career Innovator, Prefers Research That Has Real-World Applications
By Raymond Jones and Sarah Stone
Assistant Professor Eunkyoung Shim has a lot in common with her faculty colleagues at the Wilson College of Textiles in that she likes to work at the interface between private industry and academia. She says she and her peers have a strong preference for research that has “real-world applications.”
However, it’s that dedication to research that continues to set Dr. Shim apart – first, through her selection as a University Faculty Scholar for the 2021-2022 academic year and, more recently, through her designation as a Goodnight Early Career Innovator.
The start of Dr. Shim’s academic career dates back to 1991, when she earned her Ph.D. at the Wilson College in fiber and polymer science. She joined The Nonwovens Institute in 2006 as a research assistant professor and since 2016 has been an assistant professor in the department of textile engineering, chemistry and science.
Identifying Promising Faculty
The Goodnight Early Career Innovators Award identifies and empowers the university’s up-and-coming researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Each year, the Provost’s Office selects 25 tenure-track faculty specializing in research of STEM or STEM education.
The award, however, is more than just a line on a resume. Shim will receive $22,000 in research funding each year for the next three years.
A large determinant of the award is “research productivity,” which Shim clearly demonstrates through five book chapters, 38 peer-reviewed publications and more than 50 presentations at national and international conferences.
She has also distinguished herself through her accomplishments in grant funding, attracting more than $3.4 million in research funding since joining The Nonwovens Institute.
Associate Dean for Research Xiangwu Zhang says a list of accomplishments like that is extraordinary, and that Shim’s research efforts have particular value because of the aforementioned “real-world applications.”
She has an exceptional talent, he says, for designing products essential to people’s daily lives. These include things like filters for clean air and water, energy-efficient separation processes and face masks and surgical gowns that offer better protection. Even mundane items like baby care products, he says, are not beyond her purview.
What mother, after all, wouldn’t want a diaper that is not only more efficient but produced with environmental sustainability in mind?
Keeping Top Talent
Dr. Zhang helped select Wilson College’s 2021-2022 nominees for the University Faculty Scholars Program and says the most important purpose of the award is keeping top talent at NC State.
“A university like ours,” he says, “invests a lot to attract, mentor and cultivate faculty members who excel at teaching, research and public service. The good ones are in huge demand and extremely vulnerable to being lured away. This program gives us an edge in retention and ensures current and future students the opportunity to study with the very best.”
The Faculty Scholars program at NC State is actually fairly new, having been established by Chancellor Randy Woodson in 2012. Each year, schools and colleges throughout the university have an opportunity to nominate their best teachers and researchers for recognition. Final decisions are made by the Office of the Provost, which chooses approximately 20 professors each year (23 during 2021-2022) for the honor.
The recognition brings an increase in prestige. It also brings an increase in base salary that runs for the duration of each honoree’s appointment at NC State.
Her nomination drew letters of support from two senior professors as well as Dean David Hinks himself. Judging by the superlatives cited in those recommendation letters, it’s no surprise Shim ended up being selected.
Nominators cited her “international expertise” in fiber and polymer science and praised her for advising so many Ph.D. students who now hold leading positions in both academia and industry. They lauded her for the time and energy she devotes to board or committee service for leading professional organizations.
She was also lauded for her interdisciplinary and collaborative research efforts, along with her long history of positive reviews from students expressing “profound satisfaction with her mentoring and leadership.”
Shim says the honor came at an ideal time in terms of her own career trajectory, since she’s been gradually transitioning from a junior faculty position to a role with more leadership responsibilities. She feels particularly validated, therefore, by an honor whose main purpose is to keep her at NC State.
“We have a lot of interesting people here,” she says, “and this is the place I really want to be.”
She acknowledges, however, that one aspect of the selection process was a bit out of line with her own sensitivities. That was the public aspect of the praise she received.
“When the award was first announced,” she says, “I received a lot of messages from old friends I hadn’t heard from in a long time. That was a bright spot, of course, but I’m not a person who feels comfortable being in any kind of spotlight. I prefer to do my work quietly.”