October 05, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

A man in a brown shirt and glasses sits at his desk smiling.

In late summer 2022, Rocky Chang and his wife thought their flight from Taiwan to Michigan was simply to escort their daughter back to Calvin University for her junior year. The couple stayed for three weeks in an Airbnb near campus. A walk and a bike ride to campus later, and they soon realized there was more to this trip.

Three decades of teaching

At the time of his visit to Calvin, Chang was entering his third year as a computer science professor at a Christian school in Taiwan. He had spent the previous 26 teaching in Hong Kong at secular institutions. Chang also worked in the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center for three years prior to his teaching career.

“I like to teach people. When I became a Christian after the first year of my graduate study, I was a TA, and the TA arrangement at the time is I would talk to the students, they answer the questions, and then I review their answers with them 1-on-1,” said Chang, who earned his doctorate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “So, I discovered during my graduate studies that I like teaching people and I also like when I can see people begin to grasp things that might not be so easy to understand.”

While for the past three decades Chang had become a seasoned professor, what was foreign to him was what his daughter was experiencing at Calvin.

An intriguing, but foreign idea

“Even in Taiwan [at the Christian school], it isn’t exactly the same as Calvin. The administrators don’t require all faculty to be Christians, and we weren’t encouraged to tout our faith in class,” said Chang. “There were a few subjects where students were taught about Christian faith, but not in all subjects. So the integration of faith and computer science is actually new to me, but I always wondered how the two could be integrated.”

There wasn’t much writing on the matter that Chang could find, but what he did read came from Joel Adams, an emeritus professor of computer science at Calvin. It intrigued him, and it’s why he took a walk and later a bike ride to visit campus, to look at the classroom spaces and hopefully run into some computer science faculty.

He ended up in the office of department chair Keith Vander Linden during one of his visits. They talked for a while about many things and during their conversation Vander Linden noted they had two faculty positions open in the department. He then asked Chang if he knew of any graduate students that might be interested in applying.

Sensing a calling

“At that time, I didn’t have any graduate students,” said Chang. “So I talked with my wife, and thought, maybe I should apply.”

Upon returning to Taiwan, Chang emailed Vander Linden and said he was interested in applying, and then he turned his application in. A few months later, after multiple rounds of interviews and vetting, Chang was offered a position in the computer science department.

“I didn’t apply for the job, but God knew,” said Chang of the entire experience. “He arranged everything.”

A new experience

Now Chang is about six weeks into his first semester teaching in the computer science department at Calvin and he’s grateful to be growing in his understanding of how to integrate faith and computer science alongside scholars who have been writing articles on this topic and demonstrating this integration in the classroom for years.

A man in a brown shirt and glasses writes on a chalkboard.
Rocky Chang is teaching his first semester at Calvin University in Fall 2023.

“I’ve read up on other people’s articles on the integration of faith and computer science, and Professor Derek Schuurman wrote a lot of those articles. Reading those articles and talking with my colleagues attracts me to know more,” said Chang. “As a first step to integrating my faith and computer science, at the beginning of the first class on every week I share with my students my thoughts about the relationship between my faith and the subject matter.”

So far Chang has shared about such things as the meaning of wisdom in God’s eyes, that God is immutable, that He’s a God of details, and that He is logical, although his logic at times is different from ours. He also addressed the question What is truth? And talked about the beauty of God.

“This is the first time in my teaching career that I could connect to my students in the faith dimension,” said Chang. “What a joy and privilege to know them in this special way.”

Making deeper connections

Chang’s students also have enjoyed connecting their faith with their area of study. In a perspectival assignment, students reflected on the devotion that has resonated with them most so far.

“Usually when people think of God’s creation, they think of mountains, oceans, and fields. However, it’s interesting to think that the God who created beautiful nature also is a God of logic, math, and technically technology. It would be naive to think technology is too advanced for the God of heavens and earth. It’s crazy to think that no matter how sophisticated technology becomes, God will always be greater,” wrote one student.

“The devotion we did on Week 3 about God's immutability resonated with me the most,” wrote another student. “It spoke to me in a time where I felt very unsure about my faith and felt discouraged by my failures. It reminded me that no matter how far I might stray from God, He will never sway and his promises to watch over me is unchangeable. In spite of my failures and weaknesses, I can live confidently in His love and the hope He provides.”

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