Enoch Shin: A Teacher and a Storyteller
I’ve heard before that we don’t remember what people do, but instead remember how they make us feel. This quote seems to be perfectly crafted for my first interaction with Enoch Shin.
As my interview with Shin approached, I could not help but be reminded of a story from a previous semester. I could not recall much about the event, but I do remember seeking help for a challenging homework problem in teaching assistant (TA) office hours. After struggling with the TA on the problem for quite possibly an hour, I nearly accepted defeat. Right before the assignment was due, however, an email popped into my inbox from the TA. The email not only included steps to reach the correct answer, but why our office hours approach was flawed. For those unfamiliar with the workings of office hours, this is quite unusual. TAs do not typically spend their own time challenging themselves to solve a younger student’s homework problems, and understandably so.
In preparation for my interview, I searched “Enoch Shin” in my inbox because of a growing suspicion that he was the TA of semesters before. And there it was, the first sentence reading, “Hi Ethan, the conditional bar chart problem was weighing on my mind, so I decided to create it and get back to you…” After expressing my gratitude, I responded with honesty. “[Enoch], this is why one chooses a small LAC [liberal arts college] like Amherst — where you’re surrounded by curious, intelligent people who want to see others succeed.”
What I came to realize during my time speaking with Shin was that this interaction was by no means fortuitous. Shin’s passion for teaching others — his love for passing on not just knowledge but a path to deeper learning — drives his life.
Finding his Way
Shin hails from the fair-weathered capital of the world, Anaheim, CA. He ended up enrolling at Amherst College for a variety of reasons, most notably financial aid packages and the open curriculum, but also a simple desire to get “far away” from Southern California.
He came in expecting to study history, a subject he’d always felt was academically stimulating, but decided to take a statistics course in his first semester. Shin was fully swept into the power of data and eventually decided to declare majors in both the history and statistics department. Reaching that point, however, was admittedly difficult.
The 2017-2018 winter was one of the worst in recent memory, and Shin recalls returning home during that first-year break seriously considering the possibility of dropping out. Shin noted that in his first year, he was just trying to keep his “head above water,” and that it was the intellectual rigor of Amherst that allowed him to do so. “I just wanted to take advantage of the open curriculum and really figure out what I wanted to do, which I think is an ongoing process,” Shin said.
Shin took classes not only in the statistics and history departments but in the sexuality, women and gender Studies (SWAGS) and theater and dance departments. These courses provided Shin an escape from the specific intensity of statistics and history, but presented another realm — of equal, but distinct, academic rigor.
In his second year, Shin became a tour guide for the admissions office. He lists his email on the admissions website, urging potential students to reach out if they have any questions. Shin pointed out how rewarding it is to accurately and honestly depict campus life for a high school student. Additionally, Shin joined the Buddhist meditation group and consistently attended weekly meditations by Mark Hart, a religious advisor at the college. While he noted that he isn’t religious, the meditation groups — which consisted of students and staff from all of the five colleges — “definitely kept me sane for a lot of my time at Amherst,” Shin said.
Motivated by a love for teaching, Shin began to involve himself in the pedagogy of the statistics department. He became a teaching assistant and a statistics and data science fellow in his sophomore year. As a statistics and data science fellow, Shin held drop-in tutoring hours for students in lower-level stats courses, and took on college-wide projects that needed to be aided by data scientists. One of which was helping Solsiree del Moral, a professor in the Black Studies department, research her book on institutionalized and incarcerated children in Puerto Rico. In his role as a teaching assistant, Shin held course-specific office hours for students — like me — who needed assistance. In 2019, Shin was awarded the Walker Teaching Award from the faculty of the college. The Walker Teaching Award is awarded to a student for accomplishment and promise in teaching and tutoring of mathematics or statistics.
A Storyteller at Heart
In the midst of our interview, as he periodically took sips from his “Keep Calm & Study History” coffee mug, it became clear that Shin’s love for teaching is deeply rooted in his passion for storytelling.
In his youth, the teachers who left an outsize impact on Shin were all history teachers. “Teaching and storytelling go hand-in-hand,” Shin said, “You have to be able to figure out the situation, the context of the student you’re teaching, the context of the material you’re teaching, and how to make that mesh and adjust it to make sense … teachers have to make an effort to make it interesting.”
In college, the roots of his love for history crept deeper. It was no longer just about reading the stories but about analyzing why the stories are written how they are. “I really enjoyed the feeling of history being storytelling. I think that’s a really rewarding process trying to figure out how people tell stories, how people remember things.” Shin claims that history “came alive” when he researched the origins of the stories we learn — why we tell stories, who gets to tell them and how we collectively remember them.
The other courses Shin found transformative were entrenched in these same questions. His Theatre and Dance courses, “Reimagining the Classics” and “Contemporary Performance” did not involve acting — thankfully, Enoch jokes — but analyzed the theoretical foundations as to “how a playwright crafts their narrative,” Shin said. “In a way, you can analyze history like a play or a theatre production, because it does involve characters, the plot, different points of view and an audience response.”
For Enoch, the thread between history and statistics is indeed storytelling. Just like history, data can be morphed by those in charge. According to Shin, statistics is about “teasing out a story from the numbers, but also about being aware of how you’re telling that story, because it’s really easy to twist the numbers to fit a specific narrative.” One must collect accurate data, wrangle the numbers, then present their findings in a socially responsible way. If they do so successfully, the data can tell stories that would otherwise go untold.
For example, when Shin assisted del Moral with her research, his job consisted of analyzing hand-written census records. Along with other Black Studies students and data science fellows, Shin turned the extremely messy data into clean tables in hopes of answering the question of which racial and gender groups were being put in which institutions. “It’s been the most complicated data wrangling project I’ve ever been involved in,” said Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society Nicholas Horton, “We’re enormously proud of what he and the team have accomplished.”
Professor of History and Environmental Studies Rick Lopez, who taught Shin’s first history course “Environmental History of Latin America” and served as his thesis advisor, praised Shin for his ability to always dive deeper. “He got the best grade in the class because no matter what it was that we read he never just looked at the surface of it,” Lopez said, “I was impressed by the richness and subtlety of his analysis.”
Perhaps the most impressive honor Shin has received during his time at Amherst is the Beinecke Scholarship. History professor Jen Manion recommended to Shin that he apply for the scholarship after taking note of his intellect and passion. “Enoch is an incredibly rigorous thinker and persuasive writer. He loves history in the best way. He sees its value and potential but never takes it at face value,” Manion said. A national competition, the Beinecke Scholarship is typically awarded to 17 or 18 highly motivated students to pursue graduate opportunities in the study of arts, humanities and social sciences.
Shin indicated that he did not expect to win the Beinecke Scholarship; only three Amherst students were selected for the Beinecke Scholarship in the previous decade. Nevertheless, Shin became one of 18 students to receive the scholarship.
If he does decide to study history in graduate school, Shin plans to focus on urban history, specifically the interactions between different marginalized groups. This interest was sparked by researching the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, in which the tension between Black Americans and Korean Americans is largely overlooked in history textbooks.
According to Shin, “Recent history has been designed and intended to address specific marginalized groups, but it’s a different equation entirely when you think of the interactions between multiple marginalized groups.”
Shin notes that writing an honest history of these events is challenging because “you’re trying to bring together a conversation with scholars who focused on one racial or cultural group, and bringing those togethers can be tough because there are different cultural memories of the event.”
Thesis and Beyond
Anchored by a desire to engage deeply with his state’s history, Shin wrote his history thesis about Mexican culture in Californian following 1848, when Mexico ceded much of modern-day California to the United States. In it, he used the framework of labor to explore how Mexican culture clashed and persisted through Anglo-domination in the region.
Many of the historical archives that Shin wanted to access were “down the road” from his California residence, but closed due to Covid-19. “He wasn’t able to get into the archives, but made the most of it,” Lopez noted, “It was a really impressive thesis.” Shin’s creativity shined, as he was able to utilize sources he did find in unique ways, such as analyzing the structure of three Southern California homes.
After Amherst, Shin will be working at Cornerstone Research, a firm that specializes in data and legal analytics for its clients. His interest in the job can be traced back to the fulfillment Shin felt when working with Professor Del Moral. “Teaching [others], like a humanities teacher, how to use statistical technology and what the data analytics process looks like is a rewarding process.” At the moment, he remains undecided if he will pursue a Ph.D. in history.
Even after all the accolades, Shin told me that he doesn’t actually view himself as one of Amherst’s accomplished students, “There are so many students here who have had really rich careers,” Shin said, “I wish I could have done more at Amherst.”
And yet there he sat, humble as can be, guiding me through all of the richness of his time at our college.