University of California, Irvine alumni couple Carol Choi ’85 and Eugene Choi ’86, MBA ’01 have been a mainstay of the campus for decades. Now, they are investing in the future of Korean studies. The Chois have pledged $100,000 to create an endowment at UCI’s Center for Critical Korean Studies that will provide scholarships for undergraduate students majoring in Korean studies and other qualified students with demonstrated interest in Korean studies. Through its Brilliant Future Scholarship Match Opportunity, UCI will double the gift, matching endowment distributions in perpetuity, making this gift to Korean studies the equivalent of a $200,000 endowment.

“Carol and Eugene Choi are shining examples of alumni who pay it forward,” said Tyrus Miller, dean of the UCI School of Humanities, which is home to the Center for Critical Korean Studies. "Creating an endowment is the most enduring legacy a donor can have since it generates support indefinitely. The Chois’ gift is an investment in future generations of student scholars of Korea as well as an investment in the Center for Critical Korean Studies."

Financial constraints keep many students from pursuing their academic passions and from fully immersing themselves in experiences that would enrich their studies, including study abroad. The scholarship support will enable students to pursue both academic and extracurricular opportunities tied to their studies.

“We are proud to create this endowment for student support,” said Carol Choi. “Korea is our motherland; Eugene and I are passionate about our roots and we want to continue to share our heritage with others. There are still many myths and misconceptions about Korea. Supporting students who are studying Korea invests in a more informed and globally conscious future.”

The Chois have been integral in several initiatives to strengthen connections between the campus and the Korean American community, of which Orange County has the second largest population in the U.S. For example, they serve on the UCI Center for Critical Korean Studies’ leadership council, served as alumni ambassadors in Korea, helped establish the UCI Korea Law Center, and helped establish and build the UCI Korean American Alumni Chapter.

Founded in 2016 to meet students’ surging interest in contemporary Korean popular culture and society and to facilitate and coordinate UCI faculty expertise in Korean studies, UCI’s Center for Critical Korean Studies is a hub for cross-campus research, collaboration and programming centered on Korea. The center will administer the Chois’ scholarship.

“Carol and Eugene Choi’s gift is a testament to their commitment to the future of Korean studies at UCI,” said Joseph Jonghyun Jeon, director of the center. “I am excited to see what our students will accomplish with this added support for their studies.”

In a recent video interview with Dean Miller, Carol Choi said, “UCI is in a unique position because of the location of the school and the surrounding community. This is definitely something that makes [the Center for Critical Korean Studies] stand out—the surrounding community and the support it can tap into.”

The couple met as undergraduates at UCI. Carol Choi obtained a B.A. in psychology in 1985, while Eugene Choi earned a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1986 and an M.B.A. in 2001. They later got married and went on to become successful entrepreneurs. She is the founder and her husband the president and CEO of United Exchange Corp., which has specialized in sales, marketing and distribution of consumer-packaged goods to Fortune 500 retailers since 1993.

The Chois volunteer on several university advisory boards, including as trustees of the UCI Foundation and as members of the UCI School of Law Board of Visitors. In addition, Eugene Choi serves on the UCI Chief Executive Roundtable, and Carol Choi was a UCI Alumni Association board director.

Given their exemplary service and contributions to the university and community, the UCI Alumni Association bestowed them with its highest honor, the Lauds & Laurels Extraordinarius award, in 2019.

Publicly launched on Oct. 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more. The School of Humanities plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more here.

With reporting by Elizabeth Beach

Photo credit: Steve Zylius/UCI
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