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Donor of the Month: Liz Choi

Tue. Jul. 25, 2023

High School graduate Liz with Kathy, and a newer picture of Liz later in life

As a leading executive presence recognized across Canada’s business community, Liz Choi knows her way around a boardroom. As a talented visionary who sits at the helm of the Education Canada Group, Liz has lent her “future think” skillset and executive leadership expertise to many organizations over the years, including CentreVenture Development Corporation, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, YMCA-YWCA Winnipeg, Career Trek, and the Manitoba government’s Immigration Advisory Council. 

While Liz moves with confidence and grace amongst the executive ranks, things did not always come easy for her. After immigrating on her own from South Korea in 1997, Liz initially had a hard time fitting in at school. She felt isolated amongst her peers as a young teen and an international student whose parents lived half a world away.

Early on in her Canadian journey, Liz found herself residing downtown, just a short walk away from the Collegiate. She was initially drawn to its close location and was keen to learn more about what the institution had to offer. Following an initial site visit, she immediately felt seen amongst the school's diverse population alongside other international students challenged with similar life circumstances. As someone who grew up having to fend for herself, she appreciated the school's university-like approach and focus on independent learning. It was at that point she immediately knew the Collegiate was the right place to plant her educational roots. 

Soon after starting grade 11, Liz met Kathy Cullen, the Collegiate’s International Student Recruiter. “When I started at the Collegiate, Kathy quickly took me under her wing and became what I called my Canadian mother,” remarks Liz. “She treated me like her own daughter, without hesitation, distrust or judgement. She was an incredibly kind and compassionate woman who not only looked after me, but many of the other international students as well—oftentimes going so far as to co-signing their apartment leases.”

“She advocated for those who didn’t have access to power, privilege or wealth, which in her world was primarily represented by newcomer students like me. She never saw me as one of her "international students'' who came part and parcel with troubling stereotypes. She saw me for me and quickly became someone I could confide in, someone who helped me navigate the language and cultural barriers at school and work, and someone who ultimately shaped me into the woman I am today. ” 

After graduating from the Collegiate in 2001, Liz would later begin her professional career at the University of Winnipeg as a program coordinator in the English Language Program, helping form partnerships with international institutes and recruit foreign professionals. She stayed in close contact and continued to create many lasting memories with Kathy over the years, both during her time at the University and beyond.

After Kathy passed away as a result of cancer in November of 2010, The Kathy Cullen (O’Connell) Memorial Scholarship was created to honour her legacy and support both local and international students from all grades attending the Collegiate. Eager to give to a fund that would aid students who had also emigrated to Canada, Liz’s gift to the initiative marked her transition from alumna to donor—and as one of the earliest supporters of the fund, Liz has continued to give generously over the years—helping the scholarship reach its full potential as an endowment. 

As a donor, Liz believes in using her power and privilege for good as a first-generation wealth creator. As a graduate of the Collegiate, she believes it's her duty to pay it forward supporting the institution that provided her with a welcoming place to land upon moving to Canada. 

The Collegiate wasn't just an educational beacon for Liz—it was a safe space where she could foster connections with lifelong friends and establish a social safety net that supported her as an international student. By giving back, she has an opportunity to support the Collegiate's lasting legacy of welcoming and caring for young people with similar lived experiences.

As a lifelong learner who is always keen to broaden her education, Liz is currently enrolled in the Kellogg-Schulich EMBA program —adding to her B.Ed. and Master’s in education from the U of M.