Pipettes placed in a beaker sat beside a bamboo tree. An “I ‘heart’ biology” T-shirt hung in the back — an anatomically correct depiction of a heart, of course. The room vaguely resembled what a science lab would look like if it exploded.
The most prized possession and reminder of a key part of his developmental biology research — a handmade zebrafish stuffed animal — rested comfortably on the computer in front of Dr. Daniel Szeto, associate professor of biology and biochemistry.
Clad in a salmon-colored polo and fidgeting with microscope slides, Szeto described an upbringing that was a stark contrast to his current place in life.
He immigrated to San Francisco with his family when he was in junior high. Szeto said his first day of school in the United States was something he would never forget.
“I was sitting there alone and afraid on the bus,” Szeto said. “I felt something hitting me. And then I see a banana peel and trash, and there was a couple of kids sitting behind me throwing things at me.”
Without knowledge of the American lifestyle or language, Szeto had a difficult time adjusting in his new environment. A tag indicating he could only speak Chinese made him stand out even more.
No classroom was willing to take him, and he was left to sit outside in a hallway completing crossword puzzles to pass the school day away.
He said it was challenging for him to gain an interest in his studies when he was continuously singled out by his peers and received little encouragement from teachers.
While standing in front of a Chinatown church waiting for classmates to finish a worship session, Szeto said he felt the urge to slip through the doors to pass some time. He remembers hearing a message about how the old has become the past and God can bring a new life and abundance to those who believe in him.
“I remember thinking, ‘I want to have a new life,’” Szeto said. “I want to have life in abundance, but I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Szeto started attending church and was determined to continue his devotion to Christ and carry out his promise to follow God to the end of his life.
Over time, Szeto said he saw God’s hand directly in his life. He completed his bachelor’s degree in bacteriology at the University of California, Davis, and went on to get his master’s degree in molecular biology from San Diego State University.
He worked as a lab technician and gained experience in research, but lacked peace in his life. He applied to doctoral programs, including one at the University of California, San Diego.
One day he received a phone call from the admissions chair at UCSD. She said she was excited about his application, but the rest of the committee was not sold on him as a doctoral candidate. Somehow, Szeto said, with God’s help a spot opened up in the program, and he was accepted.
Despite of being older than his peers, he saw success in the program thanks in part to his dedication. Szeto went on to become an assistant professor at Purdue University and hold a spot on a number of research committees.
“I dedicated my time, day and night, to trying to build my little empire,” Szeto said. “I found little satisfaction, and I didn’t know why. I was very frustrated. I had reached the impossible.”
Szeto felt a strange pull to investigate California Baptist University while working late one night. As he looked at the website, he discovered an employment opportunity that fit his experience perfectly.
The opportunity lined up with a desire he had to teach at a Christian university, but he was hesitant to leave Purdue. He waited until the day the application was due to apply. That same day, Dr. Bonjun Koo, professor of environmental science, contacted Szeto to tell him CBU was interested in his application.
“When we opened the position, he was an active professor at Purdue University, which is one of the best universities in the United States,” Koo said. “We talked about his qualifications and thought he may be overqualified.”
“I could attribute everything to God’s grace — nothing I have done,” Szeto said. “That’s why when I teach students, it’s always in my thought and heart, ‘It’s not about the GPA.’ It’s about the word of God and how he can accomplish things.”