High SchoolLexington High School, 2018
Undergraduate EducationB.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, 2022
Ben Choi spent the first half of his life in Santa Barbara before migrating east to Lexington, Massachusetts when his father took a new job. During that time, persistent drought dramatically altered the Southern California landscape that he had known as a young child. When he returned for the first time in 2018, the stark contrast was alarming. “That was the point at which climate change transitioned from being this academic problem that I had studied in school to something that affected me personally,” he recalls.
Having completed his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering at Stanford, Ben has come to believe that nearly any discipline can be brought to bear on developing climate change solutions. “The Henry David Thoreau Foundation was an important part of that realization,” he says. “I’ve met so many Scholars who are working in diverse fields like medicine, law, and engineering. They helped me realize that all of these fields can be applied to solving environmental problems.”
It is solutions-minded, coalition-building Thoreau Scholar alumni like Sophie Purdom who inspire Ben the most. “She’s curated an entire group of people and resources to support the growth of technology companies that address climate change. I’m drawn to this kind of work because I believe we need to pursue solutions that are not only more sustainable but also better, faster, and cheaper than the status quo. The solutions that push the needle economically and socially are the ones that will gain adoption.”
Ben’s perspective on the role that businesses can play in addressing environmental issues was informed by an early experience in college at an ocean plastics conference in Bermuda. Sitting alongside executives from Coca Cola and Dow Chemical, he realized that they did care about climate issues, but they felt constrained by the need to serve their companies’ financial bottom line and their duty to shareholders. Their willingness to listen and speak candidly to young people informed his thesis on the kind of solutions we need.
Ben is currently validating startup ideas as a fellow at the 776 Foundation, with a focus on green infrastructure and materials in the built environment. The Foundation provides young people with a $100,000 grant over 2 years to get a climate-related startup or nonprofit off the ground. Longer term, Ben is interested in finding ways to incentivize the global transition to a circular economy. “The energy transition is well underway,” he notes. “The big question now is how we can reuse materials and knowledge across these projects to ensure a sustainable and repeatable process. Linear supply chains and the limited existing workforce are already posing a bottleneck to physically building out the energy transition. It’s a great time to be working on circularity and productivity in the built environment.”
As busy as he is, Ben still finds time to give back as Chair of the United States Earth Science Organization, a nonprofit that helps prepare students to work at the intersection of Earth, technology, and society. “I’ve come to realize that my path has been formed by many happenstance events early in life. Those early experiences can have an outsized influence, setting off a chain reaction of compounding involvement and care about climate change and the environment. Helping to curate those experiences for students at USESO is therefore some of the highest impact work I’ve been involved in.”
Whether it’s the students at USESO, his friends from Stanford, or his fellow Thoreau Scholars, Ben finds the greatest inspiration in the people in his life. “My friends are an important support network, but they also help calibrate my idea of what’s possible. The people I’ve met through the Henry David Thoreau Foundation play a similar role. Not only have they been ready and willing to share advice and resources, but they’re impressive across the board. When I see the incredible things they’re all accomplishing, I begin to think that even the most ambitious ideas I have are not as out of reach as they seem.”