Meet Yushin Kim (’24), a biochemistry major and computer science minor who has been accepted into a prestigious PhD program within Yale University’s Biochemistry Quantitative Biology Biophysics, and Structural Biology Track.

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting a few Concordia’s uncommon graduates. Faculty and staff submit candidates for consideration. Stories are posted in the days leading up to commencement. View more uncommon graduates here

Yushin Kim is accustomed to stepping out of his comfort zone. In fact, he’s done it so often throughout his life that his “zone” has become quite expanded.

Move to a new country without a familiar face to greet you on the other side? Yushin has done it multiple times.

Learn the colloquialisms of a new language and culture through immersion? He’s done that a time or few, too.

Devote oneself to at-home high school studies sans instructor and adult oversight, or navigate compulsory military service amid COVID lockdown? Check, and check.  

It’s all part of the formula for personal growth, says Yushin. “I love experiencing life, even the failures. I think that this is the exact mechanism of how people grow.”

A simple enough concept, but one that is far more difficult to execute for most. Those who know Yushin, though, will say he seems to leap into growth opportunities with eagerness and constant joy.

“I appreciate Yushin’s drive for critically diving deeper into the concepts presented in class,” says Scott Van Ornum, PhD, professor and chair of Physical Sciences. “He truly wants to understand the underlying scientific aspects of God’s creation, and he can apply that knowledge very effectively. I treasure our many science career discussions and I look forward to watching him grow in his graduate doctoral program.”

On the cutting-edge of computational biology research

Yushin’s next life experience is a milestone for him. He’s received a coveted doctoral fellowship to study protein structures via computational biology research at Yale University, whose researchers are known pioneers in the field.

Computational biology is a relatively new division of science, but one that is rapidly growing. It refers to the use of mathematical modeling, data analysis, and computational methods to understand biological systems.

Yushin received exemplary preparation at Concordia for this growing field of study. In fact, it was his Concordia professors – Van Ornum and Professor of Physical Sciences Katie Bichler, PhD – who turned him on to research in the first place.

“I used to think that PhDs are for people who like to just print scientific articles and read them [alone] in their offices,” says Yushin, who initially felt that his more extroverted personality wouldn’t mesh. “But Concordia taught me that there are different types of people needed for different fields.”

Yushin eventually joined the research team of Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Terry-Elinor Reid, PhD, who is trained as a computational medicinal chemist.

“What makes Yushin so awesome to work with is his dedication and inquisitiveness,” says Reid. “He takes the initiative and goes the extra mile to achieve his goals with integrity. Not to mention, he has a welcoming and compassionate personality, and he’s always willing to help.”  

Yushin says Reid gave him access and leadership opportunities within her lab that he’s certain he wouldn’t have had at a bigger school.

“I was really motivated, and she was very eager to let me try and experience everything,” Yushin explains. “Our personalities just fit. She really cares about teaching student researchers.”

Caring professors and exposure to God’s Word

Reid is one of many examples of “Concordia professors who care” that Yushin came to know. No matter the subject area, Yushin says he was hard-pressed to find a faculty member who wouldn’t welcome his queries.

“The interaction with the professors was really special to me,” says Yushin. “I always talk to professors, starting with questions after class, and those lead to bigger conversations.”

The interaction with the professors was really special to me. I always talk to professors, starting with questions after class, and those lead to bigger conversations.”

Yushin Kim (’24), Biochemistry Major

One of those bigger conversations revolved around his faith life. Growing up, Yushin wasn’t unfamiliar with Christianity; however, it wasn’t until Concordia that he began to embrace faith and Scripture as a lens for life. His Christian Faith class, taught by the Rev. Aaron Moldenhauer, PhD, was particularly enlightening.

“I’m a very logical person, and I had never really experienced dissecting Scripture in a very structured manner,” Yushin says. “I think it really hit different for me.”

Called to live faithfully in service to God and others 

Concordia also introduced Yushin to the Doctrine of Vocation. The idea that a person can contribute their gifts to the world to the glory of God in myriad ways really resonated with him.

And Yushin has many gifts to contribute. Not least among them is his willingness to step out of his comfort zone with a ready smile. It’s hard to imagine a time when he couldn’t be found on Concordia’s campus with his trademark smile spread across his face. In his native South Korea, however, cultural differences dictate that one doesn’t offer up such familiarity to a stranger.

“Smiling at strangers was pretty scary (at first),” says Yushin. “When me and the other Korean students came here and someone said ‘hi,’ we’d say ‘hello’ but then [my friends would say], ‘Do you know him?’ [I’d respond] ‘No, I thought you knew him!’ It was horribly embarrassing.”

It took about a semester for Yushin to become accustomed to congenially greeting passersby – a Concordia community favorite. Now, the habit is so ingrained that he’ll likely not stop, even if East Coasters, with their stereotypical tough exteriors, reject it.

“People will literally be running away from me at Yale,” Yushin said, followed by a burst of laughter. “It’s okay. I like greeting people. It is my personality to be smiley.”

A “serious” researcher who doesn’t take himself too seriously. No doubt this openness is thanks to years of being willing to experiment with life.

“People learn so much more by experiencing something than from just having a conversation about it or reading about it in a book,” Yushin says. “Concordia helped me experience so many things that I’m thankful for.” 

Want in?

Learn more about undergraduate research opportunities at Concordia, and explore our biochemistry bachelor’s program here.