Monday, October 18, 2010

40 after 40: Phillip Choi

It's been a long road for Phillip Choi. In 1982 he came to Canada with little English - today, he's the Associate Chair of the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Alberta. And it's largely thanks to Douglas College, says Choi.

"My high school marks from Hong Kong were not high enough to get me into any Canadian universities and no high schools in the greater Vancouver area would accept me to repeat grade 12 as I was over 19. Douglas College was my only hope," says Choi.

It turned out he was a fast learner. It took only one year of English as a Second Language and University Transfer courses in General Studies at Douglas until Choi was ready to tackle university.

"The teachers really know how to teach ESL. They didn't only correct my writing, but pointed out the differences between Chinese and English grammar that caused the majority of my errors.

"For example, in Chinese there are no countable nouns. So one would write `I have two book' in Chinese rather than `I have two books,'" says Choi.

His teachers suggested Choi underline all the nouns when writing and think about whether they could be counted or not determine if they needed an 's' added. "I am still practicing this trick today," says Choi.

Choi went on to complete his BSc in Chemical Engineering at the University of BC, then his Master's and PhD (Waterloo). He spent a couple years working as a research engineer in the mid '90s before taking a job as an assistant professor at the University of Alberta. He was promoted to the rank of professor three years ago and was named associate chair in 2008.

Choi is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Chemical Institute of Canada, a national professional association of chemists, chemical engineers and chemical technologists

Choi says he never would have imagined teaching as a career before he came to Douglas. "One major reason that I chose to have an academic career is to help students develop their potential since I had excellent education here in Canada, at Douglas College in particular," says Choi.

40 after 40 is a series showcasing our amazing grads and employees in celebration of our 40th anniversary. Check back every Wednesday and Friday for another inspiring story. See more about our 40th on our Anniversary page.