Sunai Kim, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, equips her students with the tools and knowledge to build sturdy foundations in engineering theory and design through rigorous coursework, hands-on experiences, and opportunities for undergraduate research.
“My passion for civil and environmental engineering lies in the fact that one gets to see how an idea turns into architectural and engineering design, how that idea gets constructed in real life,” Dr. Kim said. “It’s an exciting profession because you get to see the tangible results of your work.”
Dr. Kim, who joined the top-ranked LMU Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering in 2017, teaches a range of civil and environmental engineering courses, including “Introduction to Engineering Analysis and Problem Solving,” “Mechanics of Materials,” “Particle Dynamics,” “Structural Theory,” and “Structural Steel Design,” among others.
In her “Structural Steel Design” course, Dr. Kim says that students learn the behavior and design of structural steel components, such as beams, columns, braces, and steel elements' connections. She describes the course as both lecture and discussion-based and says that students get to work on a unique class project at the end of the semester where they are tasked with designing a new three-story engineering building on LMU’s campus.
“LMU students are very intelligent, down-to-earth, and humble,” Dr. Kim said. “I am always surprised by their humility and hard work ethic. Also, LMU students tend to be very inclusive and treat their cohorts like family.”
Drawn to LMU for its Jesuit mission, in particular its commitment to educate the whole person, Dr. Kim says that she strives to find ways to involve students in her research, as she views it as an essential conduit for education and mentorship.
For instance, Dr. Kim has four undergraduate research assistants helping her collect data for her engineering education research to improve the spatial skills of undergraduate engineering students.
“I’m using 3D-printed, hands-on tools to teach spatial skills within a statics course,” Dr. Kim said. “As strong spatial skills have been linked to success in many engineering disciplines, as well as higher-level thinking, reasoning, and the creative processes, coming up with an effective intervention will help equip a broad range of students with the necessary skills to succeed in their engineering careers.”
Another research project Dr. Kim is currently working on is part of the Orange County Solar Decathlon competition held in 2023.
“We have received a $100,000 grant from the State of California to design a sustainable house to tackle both the housing crisis and climate crisis in California,” Dr. Kim said. “I’m working with three undergraduate students to design this house, and when we have our product, I’ll be collaborating with LMU Entrepreneurship students to make this house market-ready.”
As for what advice she has for incoming LMU Lions?
“You won’t regret deciding to come to LMU,” Dr. Kim said. “Our campus is beautiful, and it’s a great place to learn. The class sizes are small, and you get to have meaningful interactions with your faculty. Get involved with a research project, as you’ll receive one-on-one mentoring from faculty.”
Dr. Kim earned both her M.S. and Ph.D. in Structural and Earthquake Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before coming to LMU, she worked as a structural engineer for the Los Angeles Unified School District and as a structural design engineer at John A. Martin and Associates. Some of her significant projects include the Soka University Performing Arts Center and Academic Building and the USC John McKay Center, among many others.