Faculty Feature: Charles Chen’s Appreciation For Nature and Stewardship

by Saundri Luippold

In the same way that plants need water, sunlight, and good soil to grow, people need a place to call home in order to cultivate their life. Biology professor Charles Chen, PhD, considers a number of places around the world as his home, offering him a firm foundation to explore his passions, discover his calling, and give others the tools to experience transformation as well.

Born in Taiwan, Chen immigrated to the Midwest with his parents during his childhood. Growing up near Chicago, science always fascinated Chen, as he liked learning how living organisms work and how science helped make sense of nature . He earned a BS in Biophysics at the University of Illinois, where he later received a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Chen then went to Japan in 2008 to conduct post-doctoral research at the Japan International Research Center and again in 2010 for research at The University of Tokyo and the National Institute of Agro-Environmental Sciences (NIAES). His time in Tokyo was a pivotal point in his life, as he met his wife, started a family, and was involved in a church that had a positive impact on his spiritual life.

Chen has always loved learning about biology. He seeks to use his knowledge to help improve agricultural efficiency. “We can use science to alleviate food shortages and play a part in ensuring food security,” he said. Chen’s post-doctoral research was centered around rice plants. He studied the effects of air pollution on plant physiology through the FACE project (Free Air CO2 Enrichment), investigating how farmers can respond to rising carbon dioxide concentrations and maintain the nutritional value in different rice varieties.

During his time in Tokyo, Chen served with a non-profit Christian organization to help with relief after the devastating 2011 earthquake, followed by a tsunami and nuclear meltdown, what many call the triple disaster. He led the Planning Division at the organization’s headquarters to facilitate survivor support efforts, including long-term emotional support that allowed evacuees to re-engage in the community.

In 2013, Chen returned to the US with his family and began his teaching career at Azusa Pacific University. “APU provided me the unique opportunity to teach students biology in a very hands-on way that brings science to life,” he said, “and the aspect of faith integration allows me to incorporate God’s purpose in what we do.” Some of his fondest memories include traveling with students to Japan every few years in the summer to conduct field studies. Chen appreciates the students’ enthusiasm and spirit of adventure. Recalling a time when one student went on a quest to hunt for giant salamanders, he was contented to find various types of frogs instead.

“It is such a joy to teach and interact with students, especially since so many come from different backgrounds. Every student enriches the classroom and makes it a more vibrant place.”

Reflecting on the multiple transitional stages in his life, Chen looks back at his experiences with gratitude for the ways in which God intervened. “I didn’t know anyone when I went to Japan for the first time, so I had to take a leap of faith, trusting the Lord would provide along the way. He gave me everything I needed, and more than I ever would have expected,” he said. Chen frequently returns to Japan with APU students to engage in collaborative research, and is reminded that home can constitute more than one place. “God’s faithfulness extends all over the world, and it’s refreshing to witness the different ways His goodness shines.”

At APU, Chen hopes that his biology students gain a deeper appreciation for God’s creation.

“God calls us to be stewards of the earth, and by becoming more aware of the environmental challenges we face, students can be equipped to do good in the world through science,” Chen said.

Similar to how the people and opportunities in Chen’s life provided him with the environment to foster growth, he is now blessed with the opportunity at APU to cultivate the desire to do good in his students. Chen’s admiration for diversity, learning, and finding the beauty in nature make him someone students look up to as a role model for environmental stewardship.

Saundri Luippold ’25 is a public relations intern in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement. Saundri is double majoring in Honors Humanities and English with a minor in Spanish. She serves as head copy editor of APU's literary journal, The West Wind, and writes on her personal blog, New Romanticism.