Professor Lee to Retire After 21 Years


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

As of December 2021, history professor Joong-Jae Lee will be retiring from UW-Platteville after 21 years of teaching to focus on practicing immigration law for the remainder of his professional career.

Professor Lee has made a lasting impression on his students throughout his teaching career. His ability to keep students engaged in the lecture hall is what separates him from his colleagues. 

Emma Tuescher, one of his current students, stated that “he is one of the few professors that adds some personality and excitement into his lessons. Especially with the ‘early’ classes, he manages to keep everyone awake and engaged whether it’s (during) our discussion or random (participation) activities in class.” 

For some, history is not as engaging, but teachers like Professor Lee are the reason why students enjoy learning. His vibrant and energetic dialogue that he brings to his lectures is why a student like Nate Dyck comes to history ready to learn about subjects like Great Depression or the Cold War. “He’s very passionate about teaching history,” said Dyck. “He gets very excited to teach us the subject and he (must) calm himself (down) quite often (from being so enthusiastic).” 

One of the main reasons his students enjoy his teaching is because he isn’t another “high-strung” teacher. Tuescher added that “he’s unique in the way that he makes jokes and doesn’t try to be super serious and in charge all the time. I think he gains more respect from the students that way because he doesn’t try to intimidate everyone. He goes out of his way to seem relatable and approachable.” 

Dyck had very similar reasons:“He is a huge football fan and somehow incorporates that into his lectures, which is funny and makes (lectures) more interesting and easier to stay focused during class.”

Growing up in South Korea, Professor Lee hadn’t experienced America until he moved to New York for his first job as a professor. There, his love for the game of football grew strong as a loyal fan of the Buffalo Bills. Often, he has been known to make references to his favorite team in his classes. “I like to draw lessons from football talk and share with the students. It is an easy topic to connect with the students who are younger than me.” 

As current students, Dyck and Tuescher will often hear references to some of football’s most well-known players like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Buffalo’s own, Josh Allen, as these are some of Professor Lee’s favorite players. 

What exactly drove Professor Lee to start teaching U.S. history? It’s simple according to Lee: “because of the close relationship between Korea and the United States, I wanted to come to the US and learn about U.S. history. I initially planned to return to Korea to be a professor there (but decided to say in America).” From what it sounds like, his students would say that he made the right choice in staying here.

What’s next for Professor Lee? Immigration law is what life has in store for him. His motivation for practicing law describes this future Chicago resident perfectly. “Unlike being a professor, my work as a lawyer is very practical. I can easily see the impacts of my work on people.” 

It’s clear that from a student’s perspective, this has already been accomplished. As far as being a lawyer goes, if the same energy and passion that is brought to the classroom is brought to his clients, Professor Joong-Jae Lee should have no problem.