Sam Yoon '91

"My eyes were opened to social inequities, to the contrast between the opportunities many Trenton students had compared to what I had at Princeton. If I wanted to promote social justice, I had to work directly with people who needed help."

Sam Yoon ’91, who came to the United States from South Korea at the age of 10 months, is the first Asian-American to run for elected office in Boston, Mass. In November 2005 he was elected at-large city councilor, charged with representing every neighborhood in a city of 600,000 people.

Councilor Yoon refers to his experience in the Program in Teacher Preparation as “key” to his eventual decision to enter politics. A philosophy major at Princeton, he was also a volunteer tutor at the Young Scholars’ Institute in Trenton, NJ. “My eyes were opened to social inequities, to the contrast between the opportunities many Trenton students had compared to what I had at Princeton. If I wanted to promote social justice, I had to work directly with people who needed help.”

Recognizing the need for teachers, he knew that “to accomplish anything, I had to be trained. I wanted to immerse myself in pedagogy, in the history of educational thought.” He chose to serve his practicum teaching math at Trenton [NJ] Central High School, living in the city and becoming part of his students’ lives. Meanwhile, the TPP seminars provided time to talk with other Teacher Prep participants, and for “discussion and reflection.”

Then came a year teaching remedial math to middle-schoolers in Elizabeth, NJ, after which Yoon enrolled at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, intending to study education policy. There, he was attracted by a course in community development—“a new concept to me. I liked the idea of changing communities from within.”

After earning his master’s degree in public policy, he worked for numerous community-based nonprofits—most recently the Asian Community Development Corporation, which aims to create affordable housing in Boston’s Chinatown.

“I saw that politics has a lot to do with community change,” he says. Yoon ran for City Council on a platform of “increasing access to quality affordable housing, raising performance in the Boston public schools, and improving the delivery of community services.”

“Education is always a top issue in local elections,” he notes. “I’m a certified teacher, and I’ve worked in city schools. For my constituents, that’s a plus.”