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Office Doors: Ji Mi Choi
Putting ASU Students on Entrepreneurial Paths
By Jamie Killin
Ji Mi Choi works long hours across the country — by choice.
She’s driven not only by a desire to improve higher education at Arizona State University, but to “pay it forward” to dedicated students.
When her father died during her sophomore year of college, she received a grant from an anonymous donor that allowed her to continue her studies and graduate. She views her contributions to higher learning as her way of giving back, after the assistance she received.
As an associate vice president at the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU, she spends hours reading and writing grant proposals, and spends even more of her day meeting with ASU faculty members and partners, occasionally spending her evenings attending events.
She jokes that a successful week means she’s been in every Arizona municipality at least once, but her reach extends far beyond the state. She travels nationally and internationally to extend the university’s scope and to create and foster partnerships.
Her role on paper is to advance corporate engagement and economic development through strategic partnerships and help foster the sense of entrepreneurship and innovation that ASU has become known for.
Essentially, this position allows her to work with people by building partnerships and creating opportunities for ASU’s students.
She keeps up her industrious schedule because she enjoys the part of her job that allows her to work with people, especially those who are looking to better themselves and their lives. Choi is inspired by those who are impacted by the programs and initiatives she’s helped put into place.
“No one is coming here thinking ‘How can I be more mediocre tomorrow than I am today?’” she said. “This is an environment where everyone is trying to move forward with optimism and community.”
Choi, who has over two decades of experience in higher education, previously worked at some of the most formidable universities in the nation, New York University and Columbia University.
She admires ASU’s strong ties to Arizona, and its ability to become greater through its connection to the environment and community.
“ASU is not trying to be Yale in Arizona, it’s trying to be ASU in Arizona,” she said. “We’re taking advantage of who we are and where we are. ASU doesn’t try to build skyscrapers where there are none.”
Choi also notes the university’s welcoming environment and its space for growth and new ideas.
“We all want to be here and choose to be here,” she said of ASU’s faculty. “There’s a sense of intimacy for an organization so large. We have a well-rounded sense of who we are and what we do.”
A large part of ASU’s impact has been built through partnerships, like the university’s partnership with Starbucks, which gives its employees the opportunity to go to school for free.
“It’s about how we can take best and full advantage of what a partner has to offer, and how they can take best and full advantage of what we have to offer,” she said.
Choi, who was the first in her family to graduate college, and remains the only one in her family to hold an advanced degree, has felt the impact of programs similar to the ones she works to help implement today.
These programs include initiatives that help give women and underserved minorities access to entrepreneurship resources they historically have not received their fair share of.
Her passion for entrepreneurship and helping to provide aspiring entrepreneurs with the resources they need is clear. She admires small businesses, which she refers to as main street entrepreneurship.
“There’s nothing small about wanting to be your own boss,” she said.
“I like entrepreneurship, not because I think everyone needs to start their own business, but because I think everybody needs to be a problem solver,” she continued.
These values are something she strives to instill in her nine-year-old daughter, encouraging her to be a problem solver in everyday life, instead of someone who’s merely a “problem spotter.”
“I tell her, ‘Let’s be people who think about how to make things better,’” she said.
Her way of making things better is by furthering ASU’s mission and by helping the students there who are working to make their own lives better.
“This is my path, and this is where I feel the most comfortable,” she said. “This is where I feel I can make the most impact.”