May 27, 2022

With a diverse, intellectual background, including a B.A in economics, a master’s in architecture, and a PhD in architectural history, Don Choi understands the student journey as they figure out their path, driving his passion for teaching and mentoring.

Don Choi, professor of ​​architectural history at Cal Poly and one of the 14 faculty to deliver a faculty seminar for the Aspire Leaders Program 2022 Cycle One cohort, sat down with Jenna Maurer, our Communications and Outreach Manager, to talk about the joys of teaching and his experience with first-generation college students. 

He’s extremely driven by his daily interactions with his students. “part of the joy of teaching and doing research is taking my scholarship and using it to make my classes more interesting and useful for the students,” he shared. 

Choi loves working at Cal Poly for many reasons; it privileges teaching and not just research, and a large portion of the student body are first in their families to go to college. 

“Especially compared to other architecture schools, I think we have a much higher percentage of students from low income families,” he explained. “There’s something more satisfying about teaching a broader range of students than just teaching the wealthy, which is what you would be doing at a lot of wealthy private institutions.”

Growing up with a father who was a professor and a mother with a master’s in chemistry, Choi always dedicated himself to his studies. “It was second nature to work hard in school and think that I would go off to college and graduate,” he admitted. He knows other students feel differently, especially those that lack the same family guidance. 

“The more I interact with students from all kinds of backgrounds, the clearer it becomes that this question of opportunity is a big one. There are talented, motivated people everywhere, from all backgrounds. They simply don’t have the opportunities.”

Choi’s sentiments echo the objective behind Aspire Institute— acknowledging the opportunity gap among talented youth and providing these students with the tools to succeed.

In his seminar with the Aspire Leaders 2022 students, Choi tried to do his best to guide the students.

“The best I could do is share my path in architecture in case someone is interested. I know, in many parts of the US, architecture is simply not considered to be important. And for many students around the world, there seemed to be more pressing issues. What was satisfying for me was simply to try to expose this topic to students who might not otherwise have thought about it at all.“

When asked what advice he would give to these students, Choi emphasized reaching out.

”Many people today are fortunate enough to be able to connect with people outside their immediate surroundings, thanks to the internet. There are so many people out here, in industry and academia, who love to talk to and advise young people.” 

“Reach out, expand your network!”


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