Alan smiling

Oftentimes, people choose a field of study that aligns with their passions, interests, and skill sets. For Alan Oda, PhD, entering psychology has not only allowed him to pursue all three of those things, but studying human development has given him the opportunities to strengthen his faith journey while helping others better understand their spiritual growth.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Oda went to UC Davis with the intention of earning a degree in veterinary medicine. “I found out I was allergic to a lot of animals, as well as my grade in organic chemistry class,” Oda said through a laugh. After earning a bachelor’s degree in human development, he enhanced his research skills in a general experimental psychology program at Cal State Northridge. He then attended UC Riverside for an MA in Psychology and a PhD with an emphasis in developmental psychology. While his research has primarily focused on adolescents and young adults, Oda has participated in studies across the human lifespan.

Oda made the most of his education by getting involved in volunteer work, internships, and research endeavors to use the tools he learned as a psychologist to create a positive impact in people’s lives. While volunteering at UCLA one summer as an undergraduate, Oda collaborated with researchers conducting various types of behavioral studies. He was offered a job as a lab tech in their Neuropsychiatric Institute.

During his time at UC Davis, Oda developed a strong relationship with Christ. He started attending a bible study, which later developed into a chapter of the Asian American Christian Fellowship. Through his involvement in campus ministry, Oda met his wife. He continues to serve in campus ministries, employing psychology to offer students perspective through their struggles and walks of faith. “Psychology is a tool to find God’s truth, not the source of it,” he said. Serving in ministry later became the groundwork for Oda’s contribution to the Faithful Change national research team for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Oda was introduced to the notion that faith development is parallel to all other stages of human growth. He continues to encourage educators in Christian higher education to give students the space to ask big questions, as doing so is vital to spiritual development.

As the project assistant for the Western Region Asian American Project during his time at Cal State Northridge, Oda worked at the social agency to initiate educational programs and mental health services. “Many in specific ethnic communities tend to avoid mental health and social services, sometimes due to cultural ideas, or a lack of familiarity with the way these systems work,” he said. His experience through this project was the perfect segue into his role as executive director of the Asian American Christian Counseling Service. “I realized that many people seeking therapy were hesitant because they wanted a therapist who understood their heritage.” By combining his understanding of the ways faith shifts throughout one’s life, along with a diverse knowledge of Asian Pacific backgrounds as a Japanese American himself, Oda has truly used his calling in the psychology field to make a difference in countless lives.

In 1996, Oda started teaching at Azusa Pacific University after working at various public universities throughout LA. After teaching classes with nearly 300 students each, he was drawn to APU’s small class sizes, allowing him to deepen connections with the diverse population.

“That’s one of the things I enjoy most about APU: we have first generation students, people from multiple countries and all sorts of backgrounds. They each bring something new to the table,” he said.

While he enjoys teaching upper division courses about human development, Oda also finds fulfillment instructing general education courses because he meets students from varying majors.

For Oda, teaching is about more than disseminating information. Rather, he strives to implement what he knows about human development to offer a safe environment for growth, both academically and spiritually. “I want students to ask questions and I’m always open to meeting in and out of the classroom to talk about what their questions are,” he said. Most importantly, however, he hopes that even if students don’t remember the theories and facts they’re tested on, they leave his class with something to think about moving forward. “If something I teach sparks an idea to push students in the psychology field for the future, I’ve done my job.”

When Oda’s not engaging with students, preparing class materials, or completing tasks as chair of the Department of Psychology, he spends time with his wife, two sons, and their pets (including a chihuahua, a few fish, and a turtle). Oda is committed to volunteer work, and has traveled frequently to Japan ever since the 2011 tsunami to assist those in temporary housing and improve community education.

Students in Oda’s classes learn more than psychological terms and methods. Instead, they get to hear from someone who has applied psychology to create a positive contribution around the world. His enthusiasm, witty humor, and gentle demeanor are just a few of Oda’s qualities that make him an excellent educator.