Faith-Informed Excellence in Science and Research

From undergraduate exploring the intricacies of human drug-metabolizing enzymes to students utilizing 3D tissue models of human organs to minimize animal testing, APU students are fully engaged in high-level research in their fields. With access to multimillion-dollar, industry-standard equipment, along with professor-mentors to lead projects, students conduct experiments, submit papers for publication and make original contributions to the sciences well before graduation.

This high commitment to research is reflected in APU’s status as the only institution in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) to earn a prestigious R2 designation from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education—the most influential rating organization among colleges and universities. Rather than choosing between a Christ-centered education or access to esteemed research opportunities, students find both at APU.

And opportunities only continue to grow. Earlier this year, APU announced a $2 million investment in research infrastructure and equipment. Among other upgrades, the university introduced a new bioengineering facility in September—the only one of its kind among CCCU schools. New equipment includes a Cell-Ink Bio-X 3D tissue printer, allowing students and faculty to construct tissue models of major organs, including skin, liver, heart, and brain.

“Our philosophy is to open doors for undergraduate students to use these powerful tools that would normally be off limits to them,” said Philip Cox, PhD, associate professor of biology and chemistry. “We want our students to have hands-on experience that will give them a competitive edge in their future workplace.”

If you glimpse inside the Segerstrom Science Center, you might find Cox and a group of student researchers gathered around the newly acquired triple quadrupole mass spectrometry system. The equipment quantifies drugs and other small molecules in complex solutions to better understand how the body processes prescription drugs.

Just one department over, under the guidance of Aisha Chen, PhD, assistant professor of engineering and computer science, a group of physical therapy, nursing, and computer science students combine skill sets to design and test video software. Their goal? To predict and prevent falls in nursing centers.

“How valuable are these research experiences? Completely invaluable,” said Chen. “Not only are they applying what they’ve learned in class, but they’re also acquiring knowledge and skills beyond that. They’re making impactful contributions as the next generation of Christian scientists.”

Unparalleled Experience

Alongside significant research opportunities, APU makes sure students are equipped with more than just a degree. Here, course matter comes to life through real-world projects and prestigious connections across fields. Whether a freshman writing their first computer code or a PhD student securing an internship, students graduate with robust experience that sets them apart in the job marketplace.

“My engineering students actually create the circuits they built the equations for, to see firsthand how they run,” said Chen. “The hands-on projects integrated throughout our programs set them up to enter the workplace a step ahead of their peers.”

Valuable training takes place off campus, as well. Many programs have long-standing relationships with prominent organizations, including big-name tech companies such as Raytheon and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Students in the School of Nursing—which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2025—take advantage of a rich history of partnerships with key healthcare leaders in Southern California, including City of Hope and Huntington Hospital, part of the Cedars-Sinai health system.

“We have a unique philosophy of starting students in a clinical setting right at the beginning of their college journey, while most other programs wait until later,” said Renee Pozza, PhD, RN, CNS, FNP-BC, dean and professor in the School of Nursing. “Because of this, they graduate with robust experience in a variety of settings, and 98 percent are employed within three months.”

Since Southern California is home to a vast range of clinical opportunities, students within these fields are able to experience diverse areas of expertise. The Department of Physical Therapy, for example, has around 600 clinical partnerships across the southwestern U.S.

“I don’t think there’s any better location to train,” said Samuel Girguis, PsyD, chair of the Department of Clinical Psychology. “Whether my students desire to work at correctional facilities, in early childhood settings, or with immigrant families, there is a huge diversity in clinical populations here, opening doors to their field of interest.”

The Master of Science in Biotechnology program takes industry connections to a new level. Through an ultra-applied-learning model, APU collaborates closely with prominent companies such as Amgen, Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine, and Medtronic to place students in professional workplaces throughout the duration of their program.

“This is a real boots-on-the-ground experience for them, not offered in your typical, campus-based program—it allows students to build a professional network in a hard-to-enter industry,” said David Dyer, PhD, executive director and professor in the biotechnology program. “I’ve had more than 200 students graduate with this kind of training, and 92 percent of them have moved successfully into careers within months of graduation.”

These practicum and internship connections bolster résumés and bring sought-after connections, resulting in alumni who are effective in complex jobs on their first day of hire.

Ethics Grounded in Truth

Artificial intelligence entering the workforce? Genetic editing of human genomes? The opioid epidemic? In today’s age of rapidly advancing technology and scientific solutions, fraught with ethical concerns and questions, it is perhaps more important than ever to train a generation of highly qualified, Christ-centered scientists who will navigate their fields with integrity and biblical wisdom.

So, as students peer through microscopes, engage in classes, and pursue internships, APU makes sure Christ is at the heart of all that they do.

“One thing that makes APU different is our faith,” said Dyer, who coaches biotechnology students in ethical decision making as they prepare to manufacture pharmaceuticals, design medical equipment, or manage the development of new products. “It’s one of my joys to be able to refer to a Christian worldview in the ethics performance area.”

The result? Students able to discuss and think critically about topics often pushed under the table or omitted from secular curriculums—students grounded in Truth.

Companies are beginning to notice and value the faith-based, ethical perspectives of employees who graduated from these programs. So much so that Gilead Sciences, the biopharmaceutical company that produces the annual flu vaccine, and several other prominent organizations have expressed an interest in establishing a regional industrial ethics center at APU.

“Our alumni are bringing a unique, deeply needed perspective into their fields,” said Dyer.

Practices Interwoven with Faith

Aside from the hot-topic ethical issues and questions of today, faith is also imbued into the everyday practices of APU students—whether nurses answering patient calls late at night or psychiatrists working through trauma with an abuse victim. As our students learn the necessary skills and knowledge for their field, faculty intentionally shepherd them to marvel at God’s creation and follow Jesus’ example.

In the physical therapy and nursing programs, this involves diving deep into Scripture, applying passages such as those about Jesus’ healing ministries to the patients and families they’ll serve.

“We know that the mind, body, and spirit are all tied together in healing,” said Susan Shore, PT, PhD, chair and professor in the Department of Physical Therapy. “So we train our students to view patients as Jesus did: with respect, dignity, and excellent care. He is our example.”

APU’s Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology students learn how to take into account values and spiritual beliefs with future clients—rather than treating those things as topics to avoid, as is the case in many programs.

“Because it is so easy to abuse the power differential and try to impose your values on someone else, many schools don’t train on faith/spirituality in psychotherapy at all,” said Girguis. “We want to teach our students to address their patients’ values and belief systems with the grace and tenderness of Christ.”

In all majors, students grow in appreciation of God’s creation. Faculty encourage students to pause, reflect, and marvel at the intricacy of a cell or the complexity of the human brain. In turn, these students carry their wonder and reverence into their future workplaces, setting themselves apart in a secular world.

“Uncovering how the mechanisms of the natural world work is not a threat to faith, but a chance to develop an appreciation of how these things can happen,” said Cox. “We are training Christians, who happen to be scientists, with the tools to deepen their understanding of how God is working.”

Alumni Transformed to Make an Impact

At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Jenna Chiang ’21, PsyD, wears many hats. As a bilingual pediatric neuropsychologist, she might be found conducting evaluations for epilepsy patients pre- and post-surgery, monitoring children with blood cancers, or providing bilingual services to Spanish-speaking patients across departments, among other roles. Her passion? Advocating for diverse groups, a calling that emerged while at APU.

“The relationships I fostered with colleagues and professors from wide-ranging perspectives stretched and refined my personal values,” said Chiang. “This, in turn, highlighted the importance of reaching historically marginalized communities in my work with medically fragile children.”

Halfway across the world, in Heraklion, Greece, a pair of APU alumni enter the stadium for the 2023 World Deaf Basketball Championships. As physical therapists for the U.S. men’s and women’s teams, Azusa Pacific DPT grads Natalie (Peterson ’17) and Chris Meinhold ’20 thoughtfully tend to the athletes’ injuries, design recovery programs, and learn stories from the deaf community.

“APU taught me to not just look at the injury or diagnosis, but consider the person as a whole,” said Natalie. At the end of the championships, both teams walked away with a gold medal.

Perhaps the greatest testament to a program is its alumni, and these stories are two of hundreds that show the long-lasting impact of a transformative APU education in the sciences. Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering careers are expected to grow nearly four times as much as non-STEM careers in just the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, yet close to 60 percent of employers face difficulties recruiting for these rapidly growing positions, most often due to lack of technical abilities and qualifications. Azusa Pacific University students —equipped with not just a degree but valued experience, outstanding skill, and a meaningful faith perspective—enter the field prepared to make a difference with excellence, for the cause of Christ.