Global Alumni Fan
“Diversity of talents and people in fields everywhere”
The new president of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), Paul L. Choi ’86, J.D. ’89, plans to promote “University-wide, global citizenship” on his travels this coming academic year. “As alumni,” notes Choi, a Chicago-based partner in the international law firm Sidley Austin LLP, “we are part of this global network with an incredible diversity of talents and people in fields everywhere.” He hopes to link that diversity to the work of his immediate predecessor, Cynthia A. Torres ’80, M.B.A. ’84. She focused on building ways for alumni to connect with undergraduates—as mentors, through internships and job-shadowing, and—especially during Harvard’s Wintersession—in career workshops and panel discussions. Such connections, Choi says, are “an important, very practical benefit of the alumni network, not only for students struggling to get summer internships and developing a career, but also in thinking about how to help [mid-career] alumni who may want to change jobs or move to a new geographic area.”
The proud Pforzheimer House alumnus also wants to bolster ties between fellow alumni and their own Houses. He has already met with peers and with some House masters to figure out ways for alumni to develop relationships with undergraduates and each other—again, particularly in the professional realm. “If there were students interested in talking with a practicing lawyer,” he explains, “it would be great if a House had its own network of alumni who work in the field.” In general, he adds, surveys show that Harvard alumni want to interact with students and share their knowledge and expertise. They also want to stay in touch with “Harvard’s intellectual resources, promote access to cutting-edge scholarship, and reach out and join with other alumni through HarvardX” (the University’s digital learning initiative).
Choi himself has a long history of involvement in alumni activities. As a current board member and former officer and president of the Harvard Club of Chicago, he has helped attract more graduate-school and young alumni to new networking and social activities there. Previous roles at the HAA include secretary and elected director of its board and vice president of engagement and marketing. In addition, he has served in reunion leadership positions for his College and Law School classes.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Choi was three when his parents immigrated to Chicago for his father’s medical residency at Northwestern. Choi assumed he would also become a doctor, but he discovered at Harvard a preference for economics (“an insightful tool to analyze a breadth of problems”) and pursued law because he was drawn to examining systems of government and policy. Now a partner in his firm’s corporate group, he is the global co-leader of the mergers and acquisitions practice. A “true believer” in the value of a liberal-arts education, Choi says that “the analytical approaches to reasoning and the communication skills, written and oral, are the kinds of fundamentals that drew me to Harvard College and Harvard Law School—and those are the skills I draw upon every day.” What makes the Harvard global community so vital, he adds, is its array of such applied knowledge and talents. “And the fundamental reason our alumni network is so strong,” he points out, “is that it’s filled with people who want to maintain a connection to Harvard—throughout their lives.”