Caltech Grad Joey Kim Hopes To Equip STEM Students To Shine as Lights for Christ

The Kim family was long on ambition but short on cash.

When Joey Kim was a child, his father’s pursuit of an elite education took the family from Korea to California to Philadelphia, where Joey’s father studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. But despite a master’s degree, the family did not thrive financially.

Joey remembers how his parents would argue over their lack of cash. For a young kid, the lesson was clear: more money meant fewer problems. So, when Joey learned in high school that chemists make a solid living, his interest was piqued. Ultimately, he majored in chemical engineering at the University of Delaware.

“My college advisor said: ‘In chemistry, you take reactants, and then you make products. In chemical engineering, you take reactants, and then you make profit.’”

Joey was sold.

He has since earned a doctorate in chemical engineering from Caltech and gained experience at national research labs. But instead of spending his life transmuting chemicals into cash, he now lives in the classroom, teaching undergrad students at The Master’s University to love science not solely for its financial rewards, but because it is a mission field where believers can declare God’s glory.

This dramatic transformation happened in little moments as the Lord saved Joey out of nominal Christianity and showed him a greater reason for getting up in the morning — a perspective he now brings to the chemistry classes he teaches at TMU. Joey also plans to bring that mindset to classes in the school’s engineering department, the programs of which are pending WSCUC approval.

Dr. Joey Kim grew up attending church, but while his youth group talked about morality, a vastly more important lesson was missing — the gospel. As for reading Scripture, it was a chore. Kim struggled to understand what it said.

Even still, in college he continued attending church out of habit. And one day the pastor shared a story that forever shifted the way Kim viewed his career.

“He was giving a testimony about a girl who got accepted into MIT’s Ph.D. program for mechanical engineering,” Kim says. “And at that time, I was like, ‘I think that’s something I can aspire to. I’ve been getting really good grades, and I think that’s something that’s within my grasp.’ And the pastor went on to say that she gave it all up to be a missionary.”

Kim remembers feeling sick. He was mystified as to why someone would throw away the rare opportunity to be a Christian witness at MIT.

“I’m not judging her,” Kim says, “but I think God really used that to cultivate a passion in me. Afterwards I was praying to God, ‘If You give me an opportunity to go to a place like MIT, I’m going. Not because I want to make money but because I want to be a missionary in the STEM field.’”

Dr. Joey Kim began teaching chemistry classes at TMU in 2020. He also plans to teach in the school’s engineering department (the programs of which are pending WSCUC approval).

Looking back, Kim knows that his missionary zeal was rooted in a passion for a church community — not a real love for Christ. However, that moment changed the course of his life. From that point on, a lucrative career was not his only goal, even if it remained a high priority. So instead of pursuing work as a chemical engineer after his bachelor’s degree (the more profitable option), he pursued graduate school and was accepted into Caltech’s top-ranked chemical engineering program.

It was there that an even greater transformation took place.

When he arrived in California, Kim looked for churches similar to the one he grew up in. After visiting four or five and growing frustrated by how superficial they seemed, he settled at one purely for its basketball league. As his dissatisfaction with the preaching increased, he turned to sermons on YouTube to fill the gap.

One message that had impacted him in the past was Paul Washer’s “Shocking Youth Message.” Kim tried to find it one day on the drive between his house and church, but instead he stumbled onto a different sermon of Washer’s.

“This one was about the gospel,” Kim says. “It was a message about substitutionary atonement. And I just broke down in my car.”

After 25 years in church, Kim heard the gospel articulated clearly for the first time that day.

“I was just so amazed at who God is, because it was the first time I ever understood how much of a sinner I was, and I understood why Jesus needed to die,” he says. “All the times I had gone to church, there were basic gospel questions no one could answer for me — or they answered in a very inadequate way that didn’t make any sense. But this YouTube sermon had the answer. My world changed.”

The difference, Kim realized, was that Paul Washer exalted Scripture. The churches Kim had been part of did not.

After that day, as he finished his doctoral studies in chemical engineering, Kim pored over Scripture with fresh eyes. And he loved it. In fact, he fell so deeply in love with God’s Word that he considered dropping out of the program and pursuing biblical studies.

“However, I still remembered the commitment I made to God that if He ever gave me an opportunity to go to a place like Caltech or MIT, I would go,” Kim says. “I didn’t think He brought me to Caltech just so that I could throw it away. So I stuck it out.”

Kim has worked in renowned research labs like Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Berkeley Lab in the Bay Area. At TMU, he hopes to inspire his students to view careers in STEM as a mission field for God’s glory.

Now, Kim sees himself as a missionary to the STEM community — not out of a nominal passion for the church, but from a deep-seated love for the God of Scripture. He hopes to equip STEM students to excel in their careers while shining as lights for Christ, making Kim a clear mission match for TMU.

Kim began teaching chemistry at TMU in fall 2020. And with his background in material science, he’s poised to teach classes like Electromagnetism and Thermodynamics in TMU’s engineering programs (pending WSCUC approval).

“Dr. Kim brings impeccable academic credentials along with a fully consistent faith outlook,” says David Crater, chair of TMU’s engineering and computer science department. “It’s impossible to overstate how special that is.”

For his part, Kim continues to dive deeply into Scripture and theology as he works to make up for lost time. He’s excited to be part of a community like TMU that holds the Word in such high regard.

“I want to teach here because I not only want to serve the community, but I want to learn from the community,” he says. “That’s why I’m here.”

To learn more about TMU’s department of Engineering and Computer Science, click here.

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