By Mike Strasser, West Point Public AffairsMay 25, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 25, 2011) -- Newly-commissioned 2nd Lt. Woo Song Do has left the Class of 2011 to join the Class of 2015 at Harvard Medical School.
After completing his 47-month journey through West Point, Do, a Medical Corps officer, looks forward to a career in military medicine after continuing his education at Harvard.
“I always envisioned schooling as my duty and obligation,” Do said. “I think the greatest impact I can have is by going through school now, getting my degree and building up that base of legitimacy and competency so that very soon I can go on and make peoples’ lives better. I think the Army is hard-pressed in finding doctors to fill the ranks, so I’d like to get there as soon as possible.”
Do’s West Point story began in typical academy fashion at Beast, West Point’s version of basic training which transforms civilians into cadets. In the summer of 2007, Cadet Woo Song Do was just another shaved head among a thousand entering the new Class of 2011. He had just enjoyed a successful senior year at Mariner High School in Everett, Wash. A wrestling team captain who qualified twice for state championships, a student body president with a perfect GPA and homecoming king, Do was ready to shed those titles for that of “new cadet.”
“I think it was important to strip away all those titles from the outside and just shape our identities here as West Pointers,” Do said. “I liked getting to know my classmates during Beast Barracks, not because they were student body presidents or valedictorians, but because they were my Beast roommates. SAT scores didn’t matter anymore; but how we looked after each other in the day-to-day tasks was all that mattered. I thought this reduction to the very essentials of being successful was very fruitful and rewarding.”
After a rigorous summer of basic soldiering skills and physical conditioning, new cadets move from the field to the classroom where they learn to balance the demands of academia. They are also introduced to the spectrum of cadet activities on what is known as Club Night, where cadets recruit and select new members for their clubs and teams. Among the general chaos attributed to this scene, Do honed in on the Model UN Team.
“I would say the Model UN Team was the defining experience for me at West Point,” Do said. “If you think about opportunities to travel--not just domestically within the U.S. but abroad as well--and talk to colleagues from the Netherlands, Venezuela, parts of Africa and Asia not just to debate them but build relationship with them. It was a pretty remarkable experience. Not only that, but it helped shape the way I view the world. It gave me a large amount of respect for international norms and international collaboration as a whole.”
He originally chose to attend West Point for the leadership opportunities it provided, and Do certainly capitalized on that.
“The idea that West Point shapes and molds leaders not just to lead in America’s Army, but lead America in general--I think that’s absolutely necessary,” Do said. “So I thought that aspect of building myself into a better leader was something that really appealed to me.”
During his time at the academy, he coached intramural wrestling, was president of Gamma Sigma Epsilon (West Point’s National Chemistry Honor Society) and vice president for the American Chemical Society Club, as well as president of the Model UN Team. Do also contributed on a research project to develop RNA-based therapeutics for wounded veterans facing issues associated with amputation.
Sometimes a cadet’s life at West Point is defined by those first and last years here. From R-Day, the cadets mold their origin story as members of the Long Gray Line. Then, upon graduation, they take stock of personal achievements and lessons in leadership which they’ve worked hard to obtain in hopes of leaving some lasting impression upon the academy. This can be true, Do said, but for those determined to pursue careers in medicine, it is the middle years which matter most.
“For cadets that are aspiring to become doctors and are willing to stick to that path, they really need to stay on top of their academics to score well on their MCATs ((Medical College Admission Test),” Do said. “At the same time, they have to balance that with their leadership duties at West Point. Because I knew this was a difficult goal to obtain, I worked really hard for it. If you look at all the cadets who’ve been successful at getting this far, a lot of us worked hard and worked together to be successful during those middle years here.”
Do chose to major in both Life Science and Psychology. All cadets must take a mandatory introductory psychology course, but Do was drawn to the subject.
“I really, really enjoyed the subject matter, the department and the instructors in it,” Do said. “And so I decided to major in psychology as well because I had a little space in my schedule. And I’m really glad I did, because those were the classes I looked forward to going to every single day.”
One of his instructors, Dr. Lisa Korenman, would become his academic advisor.
“His accomplishments in my introductory psychology class earned him the Colonel Beach Award, given to the top performing cadet in the course,” Korenman said. “To date, no other cadet has achieved as high a grade (a 104 average) in the course, verification of his unique talent in academics.”
Korenman recalled Woo’s interest in a summer internship which would complement his life science and psychology training. The volunteer coordinator at a camp for critically and chronically ill children was initially hesitant at Do’s qualifications.
“The concern being that people of this intellectual level have difficulty connecting with the children,” Korenman said. “Woo’s personality and demeanor not only led him to overcome her stereotype, but he completely won her over, leaving her begging for more like him.”
Korenman saw more of the same when Do volunteered at the annual Special Olympics event at West Point, and when he forfeited his spring leave one year to participate in beautification efforts in New Orleans.
Rather than looking at community service as an obligation, Do saw it as a privilege. Do traveled often with teams of cadets to judge science fairs and provide scientific demonstrations at schools across the state.
“You have to understand the day-to-day academics can become very much of a grind,” Do said. “And so, these are outlets to do something I find very meaningful, rewarding and substantiating. I felt invigorated to be able to impart knowledge to children who may not have had a very positive view of science coming in, but by providing these demonstrations to them, they learn to love it. Then their excitement for it further fuels our own excitement. So I can hardly say it was those kids who gained the most of it. I’d say a lot of us who judged, taught and coached gained just as much, if not more.”
Prior to graduation, Do received the Richard M. Mason Memorial Award at a ceremony in Keller Army Community Hospital on May 17. The Mason Award is awarded annually to the graduating senior with the highest grade point average who is entering medical school. Following his graduation in the Class of 1968, Mason served several highly decorated tours in Vietnam. Upon redeployment, he entered medical school, serving his medical residency and internship in Internal Medicine at Letterman Army Medical Center. Mason died of cancer in 1977 at the age of 30. His parents established the award in his honor.
“I find Woo’s graduation both celebratory but bittersweet as well,” Korenman said. “I will miss having him around, his energy, passion, dedication and intellect I am quite sure will never be seen again. I take comfort in knowing that he is going on to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor and the world will be all the better for it.”
Receiving the award is a humbling honor for Do, which he said could have gone to a number of his peers he acknowledged as brilliant and talented people.
“I look at my classmates and see so many people who I view not just as my friends but as highly qualified and competent leaders,” Do said. “I’m not sure I am deserving of this award, so I am very grateful, honored and privileged; but I think that any one of them would be just as deserving of the award.”
West Point is not an easy journey, Do said, and it’s the bonds forged among classmates which makes the path manageable.
“I’m going to remember most all the friends I made and the people who helped me along the way,” Do said. “The relationships I built here as a cadet"that support system"was absolutely crucial to my success, and I owe it to them.”
Do is confident that during his Army career and thereafter, he will be able to draw from that circle of friends once again.
“It makes you feel very warm inside to be able to look to the future and say I want to make an impact,” Do said. “And if I had to put together a team of guys and girls that I trust...I could say with all the confidence in the world that the team I would put together would comprise the cadets I met and made friends with here at West Point. The engineers, the life science majors, the political science majors…these are people I respect so much and know I can always rely on."