“Because of that, we were able to connect with our professors and faculty mentors really quickly, and we wanted to advocate for the program together. We all want to keep improving it, and we just naturally ended up joining them and contributing our voices on how to do so from a student perspective.”
Pursuing a Passion for the Environment
When it comes to her path in life, both academically and personally, Eugena Choi ’24 is a product of her environment—literally.
“Growing up, I always liked being outside in nature, which kind of naturally led to my being passionate about the environment,” she explains. Her interest in pursuing that passion was kick-started in a high school classroom, where she took AP Environmental Science as a junior. “I immediately bonded with my teacher, and she really cultivated my interest in turning what I loved into a potential career.”
That interest led her to WPI, where she’s double majoring in environmental and sustainability studies and environmental engineering (as well as minoring in international and global studies). Though her passion for the environment and sustainability isn’t limited to the classroom, she incorporates her interests into her roles in the Korean Student Association, WPI’s chapter of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, and the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE).
“They provide a safe space and a great community on campus,” she says of all the organizations. “It’s not just a space that provides professional opportunities and connections, but one to gather and socialize. I love the people I’ve gotten to know through them.”
“A Positive Light Next to Me”
The influence of teachers has been consistent in Choi’s life. William San Martín, assistant professor of global environmental science, technology, and policy, has helped her build upon her environmental interests since her arrival at WPI.
After taking two of his classes, Choi kept in touch with San Martín, whom she describes as having been instrumental in her academic process at WPI. “He’s provided a lot of advice and mentorship, as well as helping me find and navigate various research opportunities,” she says. “He’s been such a positive light next to me, and I’m really grateful and appreciative of him.”
In addition to offering guidance and a listening ear, San Martín invited her to help with his research project on global nitrogen. While the myriad experiences she’s had over the course of her high school and college years may have broadened in scope and intensity over the years, they—and, in turn, her teachers—have been invaluable in helping her craft her passions and her future.
“If it weren’t for them,” she says, “I really wouldn’t be where I am right now.” And where she is right now is more than impressive.
Studying Green at Brown
In 2021 she earned a Summer Training in the Arts and Sciences (STAR) fellowship award, where she completed a project (advised by San Martin) focused on environmental injustice issues in Los Angeles County and how the COVID-19 pandemic amplified those problems.
“I wanted to choose somewhere that was a big city, had a history of environmental justice, and was heavily impacted by COVID-19,” she explains of her decision to study Los Angeles in particular. “LA has a history of hazardous waste sites, and communities have settled around them disproportionately, which has affected lots of pre-existing problems like air pollution and vaccine equity.”
I appreciated the opportunity to be able to explain my work, share my methodology, and go in-depth into the work we had done all summer.
Because of restraints due to the pandemic, Choi’s entire project was completed virtually. That aspect could have been seen as an additional challenge, but Choi used it as an opportunity to further shape her research and time management skills, making for an impactful, successful project. Both are skills she plans to utilize during her IQP, which she’ll complete in Ecuador this upcoming D-Term.
Next up for Choi was the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program (SR-EIP), which gives students the opportunity to complete in-depth training and research work in anticipation of upcoming applications to competitive PhD programs. She spent nine weeks at Brown University this past summer, studying under Professor Scott Frickel, to explore the history and political ecology of manufacturing waste in Rhode Island during the mid-1800s to mid-1900s, as well as the environmental hazards posed by those materials, before presenting her work at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium with more than 500 of her fellow students.
“It was the first time they’d held it in person because of COVID,” she says, “and I appreciated the opportunity to be able to explain my work, share my methodology, and go in-depth into the work we had done all summer.”
Building Sustainable and Just Communities
When asked about her future and what she plans to do after WPI, Choi is open to ideas. Going immediately into the sustainability field after graduation, getting her master’s or MBA in a field related to sustainability, or spending some time working before returning to school are all viable options. But no matter what she does, she plans to spread the word about the importance of environmental sustainability and careers in the field, an effort that began right here on Boynton Hill through the first-ever Careers in Sustainable and Just Communities Networking Event.
“There aren’t many of us majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies,” she says. “[Co-student organizer Hannah George ’24] and I met and connected because we’re the same major, and sometimes it felt like we were the only ones in the program.
Regular committee meetings with faculty about how to share what the program has to offer with the rest of the campus community led to Choi’s and George’s realizing that many students had an interest in sustainability and related ventures even if they weren’t majoring in it. They used that knowledge to work with Associate Professor of Teaching Lisa Stoddard, Michelle Mestres ’19, and the Career Development Center staff to welcome 30 climate-focused alumni and employers—in professions ranging from environmental engineers and environmental lawyers to entrepreneurs—to connect and share their experiences with students in a more relaxed, informal atmosphere.
“We ran out of places for people to sit,” Choi says with a smile. “Working with our faculty mentors, seeing everyone come together, sharing our passions with each other … it was all just really fulfilling.”