Dr. Su’s journey to Westmont


Noah Nims

Dr. Su, professor at Westmont

Angela Tran, Staff Writer

Dr. Alastair Su, a professor in Westmont’s history department, specializes in United States and economic history. Throughout his four semesters teaching at Westmont thus far, his favorite part of the job has been the culture of academic intentionality. He says, “I’m always so amazed by how every class, my students show up hungry and earnest and curious … That makes my job very rewarding. People show up because they want to learn.”

However, Dr. Su took a while to decide on his own pursuit of history. As an undergraduate student at Harvard University, he originally thought to major in economics. Since his generation was heavily defined by the 2008 financial crisis, he says, “The economists were offering some answers … [but] I realized [history] was a discipline that would answer more of my questions about the economy.”

It took encouragement from a faculty mentor to point him in the right direction. He says, “[During] our very first meeting, she said, ‘Have you ever thought about being a history professor?’… I am the first member of my family to get a PhD, so without a model, it was hard to imagine [myself] doing something like that.”

Nevertheless, he later went on to complete his doctorate at Stanford University. One thing led to the next, and he came to join Westmont in 2021. “The more I learned about [Westmont],” he says, “the more I realized that this was a door that God has opened for me, one where I could thrive and be of help to students, not just academically but also as a person of faith.”

Currently, Dr. Su is busy on the tenure track, teaching three classes per semester and maintaining a productive research schedule. His current book, a study of the background of the Opium War, will be released next fall. In addition to his academic responsibilities, Dr. Su sets aside time to be present for his wife Dilys and his three and a half year old daughter Naomi. “It is intensely challenging every day to figure out how to allocate my time well without burning out,” he says. However, everything, especially his family, is well worth it. He says, “[They] are a source of great joy in my life.”

As for his own family background, Dr. Su was raised in a variety of places where his father was posted by the Singapore military. Though born in Singapore, he also spent much time in Thailand and the United States. This pattern of life as a third-culture kid exposed Dr. Su to many ethnic backgrounds growing up. He grew up in a Methodist Christian family and began to take his own faith seriously around age 13. “I had to claim the faith for myself and find out what it meant,” he says.

If you are pressured by uncertainty of where your future will lead, Dr. Su’s journey is a worthy example of how God is faithful to hold the unexpected. “That’s how calling works for most people,” Dr. Su says. “You rarely ever get stone tablets from heaven. [Instead] it’s about intuiting, listening and figuring out where God’s leading you.”

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