Education may be a year-round activity at Fresno Pacific University—which has campuses in Merced, North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield in addition to the main Fresno campus—but each year Fall Convocation is a time to honor the academic and spiritual experience of students.

The 2022 event began September 8 with the ringing of a bell beginning a procession of faculty, each decked out in the colorful caps and gowns of the university where they received their highest degree, into the Special Events Center, where students and staff were already gathered. It ended with a thundering standing ovation by everyone present after hearing one of those faculty tell the story of what he overcame to achieve success in teaching, the profession he loves.

In “Pressing on Toward the Goal,” Ken Cheung, Ph.D., professor and director of the chemistry program, remembered his feelings on winning FPU’s Nickel Excellence in Teaching Award (NETA) at the end of the 2021-22 academic year. “I was looking around who would that be this time. Surely, it would be someone else rather than me. I was bashful to even stand up when the provost called my name,” he said.

The Nickel Excellence in Teaching Award (NETA) is given to an outstanding undergraduate faculty member. The award honors the Nickel family’s three-generation commitment to Mennonite Brethren Higher Education, including Ted Nickel, Sr., and his son, Ted, who both taught at Fresno Pacific.

Especially sweet for Cheung was that student recommendations play a large role in selecting NETA winners. He thought of some of the student reviews he got early in his time at the university. “There were students who said that I can hardly speak a word of English, my ‘lectures are like huge run on sentences that really make no sense,’” he recalled. “[some said] ‘FPU is an American university, and the course should be taught by an instructor born here in this country.’

Cheung became emotional several times during his speech. “It is obvious that I am not a native English speaker. My mom had only an elementary school education. I am a first-generation college graduate,” he said. “In middle school, I was berated for being unable to write or speak a word of English.”  

Students and faculty come to FPU from many places because first and foremost FPU is a Christian university, Cheung said, “and I am a child of God. Miracles do accompany those who receive Christ, who believe in his name and who are given the right to become children of God.”

As he prepared his convocation message, Cheung saw the faces of former students he had helped. “They transformed from self-doubting during their freshmen year to now becoming confident practicing medical professionals or graduate students. God’s still small voice spoke to me from within: ‘My Son, I love you, and I am pleased with what you’re doing. It’s not how good you are in teaching that I called you to be a teacher. It’s through your inadequacies, that my grace is sufficient for you, my grace is manifested,’” he said.

Cheung called his audience to action for the coming academic year. “Let us walk by faith and not by sight. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up. We declare that we will walk hand in hand, and we shall overcome, starting today, for today is the day of salvation. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. Pray to receive Jesus Christ into your heart as your Lord and the Great Shepherd of your life,” he said.





Wayne Steffen
Associate Director of Publications and Media Relations