Alumni Spotlight

Joshua Pak ’93
Professor of Chemistry
Idaho State University

Majors: Chemistry, English Literature

Activities: William Penn Society, Asian Student Association, Tennis

What first attracted you to Whittier College? I was attracted to Whittier’s small class size, its close-knit community, and the attention I received from professors.

Why did you choose to study chemistry and English literature? I always liked science and wanted to stay in science. I started as a chemistry major and I certainly stayed in chemistry because I always liked making and analyzing things. I chose to pursue English literature very late, during my junior year. For some reason, I took a lot of English courses, and, when I was a junior done with chemistry requirements, professor Wendy Furman-Adams pointed out to me that I might be able to get an English minor. I ended up going to England for a semester and I was able to load up on English courses to complete a second major. My wife thinks it is quite ironic that I have an English literature degree, as English is my second language.  

Describe your experience at Whittier College. What was your favorite class? My favorite class was organic chemistry taught by the late professor Robert Schambach. It was a very challenging class. In fact, it felt like I struggled the entire year. Fortunately, professor Schambach's enthusiasm and excitement made the class more bearable. Later, during my graduate career, I often noticed that I was exposed to concepts and techniques that my classmates never did as undergraduates. In many ways, most of my Whittier courses were unique and became valuable in my professional career.  

Did you intern while at Whittier College? Where, and what was that experience like? I worked as a quality control chemist at Miller Brewing Company in Irwindale, CA. It was great educational experience, which helped me to decide to pursue Ph.D. in chemistry. (The job had the added benefit of free beer, which we used to have some great parties at the Penn House.)

What was your first job after Whittier? What are you currently up to? How has your Whittier education benefited you professionally? After Whittier, I went straight to graduate school. I earned my M.S. at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Then, I earned Ph.D. at University of Oregon followed by a two-year postdoctoral appointment at UC Irvine. I started my first "real job" at Idaho State University, where I currently hold the rank of professor of chemistry. Every now and then, my wife (also a Whittier alum) and I talk about how great an education we received from Whittier. As undergrads, we were always pushed to do better. The rigor in my education provided me with the stamina and essential skills to be successful in my career. The most useful skills that I gained from Whittier are writing, communication, and, most importantly, critical thinking skills. I know the education I received after Whittier also contributed to my success, but the foundation that was formed at Whittier initiated it all. 

What advice would you give to future chemistry students when they graduate? Wow, this is a tough one. I would say that the Whittier experience is something very unique and something to be treasured. You learn skills that will last a lifetime. You make friends who will always support you. Those are a rare combination for any schools to offer. My advice would be to have confidence in your abilities and to take charge of whatever you do. 

Finish this sentence: I am a ‘Poet for Life’ because… I would not be who I am today without my Whittier experience and friends. 

-Are you a graduate of the Department of Chemistry and want to share your story? Contact the Office of Communications at therock@whittier.edu.

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