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New Face: Jin Ouk Choi

This South Korean-born civil and environmental engineering professor has been to more U.S. cities than most Americans. In fact, it was a U.S. city that originally ignited his passion for his profession.

People  |  May 8, 2017  |  By Cheryl Bella

Jin Ouk Choi, Assistant Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering & Construction (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

Jin Ouk Choi’s research focuses on bringing to the construction industry the productivity and performance gains experienced by manufacturing over the past several decades.

Why about UNLV strikes you as different from the other places you have worked or where you went to school?

The people and the city. When I came out to interview for the position, the faculty and staff in the civil and environmental engineering department in the College of Engineering were so friendly, happy, and welcoming. Before moving to Las Vegas, I worked as a postdoc at two different universities, and have been to multiple other higher education institutions. I found everyone at UNLV to be the best. Likewise, I have been to nearly 40 states in the United States, and to 20 different countries. Among all the cities I have visited, I would pick Las Vegas as one of the best.

What inspired you to get into your field?  

The Chicago city skyline. I grew up in Daejeon and Seoul, South Korea, but as a child we traveled to the U.S., and I lived here for a short time. It was when I was about 10 that we went to Chicago and that city’s skyline made a real impression on me.

What is the biggest challenge in your field?

Improving productivity gains and project performances. While manufacturing productivity gains have been very significant over the last 30 years, the construction industry appears to be stuck in second gear. That’s why I’m focusing my research in modularization and standardization strategy to achieve improved project outcomes in cost, schedule, quality, safety, and the environment.

Finish this sentence, “If I couldn’t work in my current field, I would like to . . .”

I would be a consultant in a global business consulting firm such as Boston Consulting Group or McKinsey & Company. I’m in higher education because I want to focus on my research.

Tell us about someone you admire and why?

My advisor, James T. O’Connor, C.T. Wells Professor of Project Management and a professor of civil, architectural, and environmental engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. I admire his charisma, leadership, knowledge, passion, and vision in construction. Learning core fundamentals and further advancements in construction engineering and management from Dr. O’Connor has inculcated in me the desire to innovate and contribute to research in the highly challenging and dynamic construction management area.

Do you have any tips for success for students?

Early planning. Just as pre-construction planning is important for successful project execution in construction, I believe early planning is important for a person’s career success. I prepared and put in a lot of effort to become a solid researcher and teacher. I believe that my being able to complete my Ph.D. on the fast track (which only took two and half years) resulted from my early preparation and establishing a broad foundation of academic knowledge in construction management.

Pastime or Hobbies

Playing basketball and watching NBA games. Go Spurs, Go!

Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why.

My Ph.D. diploma. I feel extremely proud of myself for securing a Ph.D. in the highly reputed construction engineering and project management graduate program at the University of Texas at Austin.

Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring.

Skydiving in 2011. I performed a tandem parachute jump from 12,000 feet, doing a free fall of 60 seconds.