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Will Yoon ’01, Renee Choi ’06, and their son, Liam.

Scholarship gift helps pay it forward

Will Yoon ’01 and Renee Choi ’06 believe in the power of education—and the power of giving back. The couple recently established the Eliana Kim & Choi Family Memorial Scholarship with a gift of $100,000 to support current students.

“Whatever we’ve gone on to achieve,” Will says, “Cornell has been a part of that. Giving back is an acknowledgment of what the university has contributed to our lives.”

With a preference for first generation students, Will and Renee’s scholarship gift will support students from any college at Cornell. It is named for Renee’s family and for Will’s late grandmother, Eliana Kim, who was always willing to help someone in need and whose giving spirit inspired Will’s philanthropy.

“She had this belief that there’s no person who is better than another person,” Will says of his grandmother. “She taught us that it’s an obligation to help others if you have the means to do so. We wanted to pay it forward.”

Renee’s family has a similar penchant for helping others, which inspires her philanthropy. Renee’s great grandfather founded one of the first private high schools in South Korea. “Education was a luxury,” at that time in Korea, Renee says, “but he felt it was important. Our family kept that legacy.”

Will received financial aid support as a Cornell student, which he says made his experience possible. “Going to Cornell was not a given even if I got accepted,” Will says. “My mom was living paycheck to paycheck. There’s no way I could have afforded it [without aid]. The generosity of alumni at Cornell made it possible.”

Because of this generosity, Will sees giving back as a “moral obligation.” “We’re committed to helping in whatever way possible, making it so that students who want to attend Cornell can,” he adds.

While not a scholarship recipient at Cornell, Renee also feels strongly that giving back to support students who may not be able to afford to come to Cornell on their own is extremely important. “Giving has really enriched our lives,” she says.

Although Will and Renee never met while students and didn’t overlap in their time on the Hill, they say Cornell helped bring them together. Set up on a blind date, they talked for four hours straight, bonding over their shared experiences.

“That’s something I really love about Cornell,” Renee says. “There’s an instant connection with people wherever you live.” She adds that she and Will have moved a few times, and no matter where they go across the U.S., she always gets stopped by fellow Cornellians when she wears her favorite Cornell sweatshirt.

As alumni, they feel part of “a very vibrant community around the world,” Will says. “That shared experience of Cornell is something we’re very grateful for. It’s part of our family. It’s not something we take for granted.”

Both Will and Renee say they are excited to see present and future Cornellians excel, and they’re grateful to be able to support the university’s progress.

“Cornell is educating people to match the rate of growth in the world,” Renee says, “teaching people to be ready to lead in the real world.”

“That an academic institution so steeped in tradition like Cornell is always able to balance its rich history and traditions with a willingness and a courage to look forward, is confidence inspiring,” Will adds. “The university is writing the future as it moves forward. It feels good to give back to something that’s been so meaningful for us.”

Read more from Cornell Alumni Affairs and Development. 

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