Like many college students, Marvin Chun sleeps an average of four hours every night.
But Chun’s sleep deprivation comes from assigning coursework rather than completing it, and from keeping an eye on dormitory parties rather than throwing them.
As the new master of Berkeley College, Chun has joined 11 other prominent figures on campus who balance their duties as professors and administrators with the management of a small community. Chun, a psychology professor, is the first Asian American to become a residential college master — a distinction that he says he is honored by, but that will not define his leadership of Berkeley.
“Most of time, I am just trying to be a good master and professor, not mindful of my ethnicity,” Chun said.
Chun succeeded John Rogers ’84 GRD ’89 and interim master Norma Thompson at Berkeley’s helm. He currently serves as director of the Yale Visual Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, and his research in the field of cognitive neuroscience concerns visual attention, memory and perception. Among undergraduates, however, he is perhaps most famous for his popular lecture course “Introduction to Psychology.”
Jenika Beck ’08, who created the Facebook.com group “Marvin Chun is the Man!!!,” said she thinks his enthusiasm and kindness toward students makes him well-qualified for his new post.
“He loves students and their energy,” said Beck, who worked in Chun’s laboratory and took his class as a freshman. “Despite his hectic schedule, he makes time for individual students and doesn’t make you feel like you are imposing on him.”
Chun is fully aware of the existence of the Facebook group, but he expressed surprise upon learning that the group is currently 152 members strong: “Oh, it grew!” he said. “That’s awesome. It’s embarrassing but flattering.”
Since joining the Yale faculty, he has won numerous awards for his research and teaching. This spring, the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, a nationwide academic honors society, gave him the DeVane Award, the oldest and most prestigious award for teaching in Yale College.
Chun, who described himself as a “total banana,” grew up in California speaking only English and moved with his family to South Korea when he was 12. Being uprooted and thrown into a different culture made his adolescence difficult, he said.
“I didn’t do well in school and barely made it into college,” Chun said. “So I know what it feels like to get a C or D.”
Chun attended Yonsei University in Seoul and spent his junior year studying abroad at the University of California, Berkeley. After earning his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he did his postdoctoral training at Harvard. During his study in the United States, he fell in love with the country and decided to stay, Chun said.
Although he said he does not intend to make any sweeping administrative changes in Berkeley as its new master, he is eager to introduce initiatives to improve student life.
For example, Chun hopes to extend his residential college’s longtime interest in eating healthily — exemplified by the Sustainable Food Project, which began in the college in 2003 — by establishing a wellness program that encourages students to strive for physical and psychological fitness. Chun said his plans, which include Master’s Teas with wellness experts and in-house yoga classes, grew out of his concern for stressed-out students. He said those who become overwhelmed by academics and extracurricular activities sometimes experience “efficiency drops,” which make them less able to achieve their goals.
“It’s not like a touchy-feely hippie thing,” Chun said. “It’s just the psychologist [in me] wanting everyone to be happy.”
Students in Berkeley said Chun strikes them as one of the most approachable authority figures they have met at Yale.
Eric Bank ’08, a master’s aide in Berkeley, said Chun is “not at all distant or pretentious.”
“He’s a little more self-deprecating and a little less professorial,” said Bank.
Roger Maldonado ’09 said he met Chun while helping freshmen move into Vanderbilt Hall. Maldonado said he saw Chun introducing himself to every Berkeley student he saw and described the master as “bubbly.”
Chun also hopes to strengthen relations between the college’s residents and its staff. Bank said Chun encouraged students to act respectfully toward the college’s custodial and dining hall staff in his address to the freshman class and in a letter published in the college’s weekly tabloid.
“When students go around acting entitled, it makes us — the professors and staff — unhappy, and that can come around and end up hurting the students,” Chun said.
Chun said he, his wife, Woo-Kyoung Ahn — the Psychology Department’s director of undergraduate studies — and their two young children are settling in well in the residential college environment. Chun said he is growing accustomed to his new residence between Elm Street and the Cross Campus lawn — apart from a strange new sight he has encountered a few times late at night.
“What was very shocking to me was the body-surfing on the Women’s Table,” he said, referring to the fountain in front of Sterling Memorial Library. “It’s right outside our bedroom window.”