Tiffany Nakla: Connecting My Faith and Science

Raised in an Egyptian Christian family, Tiffany Nakla ’22 grew up attending a Coptic Orthodox church where the beautiful prayers and hymns sung in Arabic and Coptic during the services deeply moved her and inspired her faith. Transitioning to college, Nakla enrolled at Azusa Pacific University where her faith continued to flourish.“At APU I grew in spiritual maturity in tandem with the strong sense of community here,” she said.

A love of scholarly learning, especially science, inspired Nakla’s decision to study biology and honors humanities. “The Honors College is one of the biggest reasons why I chose APU,” she said. “It’s such a unique aspect of APU’s education. You really can’t find anything like it at most other undergraduate universities. It gave me a way to explore ethics and philosophy in a special way with the Socratic style discussions.” Double majoring in humanities also meant Nakla wasn’t required to take general education courses, which allowed her to focus more intently on her science classes. After her sophomore year, Nakla decided to switch from biology to biochemistry.. “I was already planning on applying to medical school, and I learned biochemistry increases your chances of getting in and allows you to take more challenging courses. I’m really glad I made the switch because I engaged in some really cool projects and learned a great deal.”

After reflecting on her four years at APU, Nakla said her favorite class was Regional Human Anatomy. “In the cadaver lab, you get to connect with what you learn in the lectures. Most undergraduate universities don’t have cadaver labs, so this was an unparalleled opportunity,” she said. Analyzing the ways different systems in the human body interact, from muscular to skeletal and organ systems, led Nakla to realize something critical.

“Science and faith naturally intersect, yet I think a lot of the time scientists and Christians have a hard time putting these two together,” she said. “There’s a level of delicacy and intricacy in the human body that you just can’t get from natural selection or evolution. Learning these things in anatomy, biochemistry, cell biology, and microbiology all ultimately enhanced my understanding and knowledge of God.”

At APU, Nakla was able to participate in research projects as an undergraduate student, a rare opportunity for a science student before graduate school. “The point of research is not to get an A; rather, it’s to learn how you can further your own knowledge within niche research areas,” she said. “My principal investigator (PI), Kevin Huang, PhD., was instrumental in helping me write a grant proposal, which requires a lot of writing skills you don't learn in class. We investigated the potential anti-cancer qualities of spirocyclic molecules. That’s one of the real benefits of research, learning more about these complex scientific ideas and explaining them in a way that anyone can understand.”

Nakla, who graduated this May, plans to attend Touro University in Nevada for osteopathic medicine. “The DO program is similar to its MD counterpart, and you get the same licensing and certification as a doctor but the emphasis focuses on holistic care. You look at a patient as a whole person, taking into account the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence their symptoms and their day-to-day life,” she said. Nakla is unsure if she will stay in Nevada, return to Southern California, or move to a new location after medical school. However, she is sure that she’ll be prepared for what the future brings. “I’ve made a lot of lasting bonds at APU––with peers and professors who continue to support me and care about my wellbeing––mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve received a lot of compassion and want to pass that on because it’s very much needed in today’s world.”