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UW-Madison engineer honored for contributions in South Korea

Order of Service Merit medal

The Order of Service Merit (red stripes medal).

A University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering professor has received the Order of Service Merit (red stripes medal) from the president of South Korea for his contributions to the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, a multibillion-dollar river restoration project in that country.

Jae (Jim) Park, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UW-Madison, received the award Jan. 2, 2012, in Seoul, South Korea.

The Order of Service Merit is among the highest and most coveted Korean honors and is comparable to the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.

Park is an expert in biological processes for removing toxic compounds in waste-treatment processes and from the environment. As the principal academic contributor to the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, he served as a project advisor and contributed theoretical river-restoration knowledge to the effort. 

Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Jae (Jim) Park, at the Nakdong River project headquarters, talking with field engineers.

In South Korea, 63 percent of the population lives in the four-river watershed. Part of the “Green New Deal” policy intended to stimulate the South Korean economy after the 2008 worldwide financial crisis, the $18 billion restoration project focused on achieving national water security and flood control and revitalizing the ecosystem in South Korea. Also including several hundred miles of streams, the restoration focused on the Han River, Nakdong River, Geum River and Yeongsan River in South Korea. The initiative will conclude in May 2012; Park currently is on sabbatical in South Korea, working to ensure the project stays on the right track.

The Four Major Rivers Restoration Project holds special significance for Park, a native of South Korea: After he saw severe pollution and ecological damage in the Han River due to industrialization and overpopulation, he traveled to the United Kingdom in 1982 to earn his PhD in river restoration. “This restoration project is part of my dream that came true after almost 30 years,” he says. 

Renee Meiller
1/25/2012