Anthropology Professor Kun Chen, whom colleagues describe as a dedicated mentor to her students and a pioneering researcher in her field, died in October after battling cancer. She was 36.
Chen began teaching at Cal Poly Pomona in 2011, after completing her doctorate at UC Berkeley. She also has a master’s degree from UC Davis.
“She was really a rising star,” says Professor Lin Wu, chair of the Geography & Anthropology Department. “Her research was cutting edge in the anthropology field.”
Wu recalled the reaction from the students Chen received when she started teaching at Cal Poly Pomona.
“When she came in, she was an immediate hit with students,” Wu says. “She really loved her students and her students loved her.”
Even while undergoing chemotherapy, Chen never lost her enthusiasm for teaching, she says.
To honor her memory, the Department of Geography & Anthropology plans to establish the Dr. Kun Chen Endowed Memorial Scholarship. The goal is to raise a minimum of $50,000 and make sure her name will be associated with the department, university and future students forever.
Chen’s research focused on the link between technology, science and society. She studied how the culture and micro-behaviors of individuals affect professional performance. She also was interested in sharing economy businesses such as Uber and Airbnb, particularly related to their fluid organization and rapid global impact.
“She was not a traditional anthropologist, who studied ‘exotic’ people,” says Professor Dorothy Wills, who served as a mentor to Chen and called her a friend. “She studied contemporary issues. She was a wonderful teacher and already an outstanding scholar, with several publications.”
Wills was department chair when Chen was hired. Chen did not come from a wealthy family. She was born in a rural area in Southern China. She attended college in Beijing and did so well that she received scholarships to come to the United States for graduate school, Wills says.
Chen connected well with the students at Cal Poly Pomona, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college and didn’t grow up with many resources at their disposal, Wills says.
“She was perfect for our students,” Wills says. “Kun really knew how to appeal to those students and engage them because she was a role model for them.”
Wills describes Chen as humble and a devout Christian who valued her Chinese heritage and relished her American citizenship.
She remembered Chen coming to Thanksgiving dinner at her home a couple of years ago and fitting right in with her family.
“She was a quiet person who nonetheless made friends easily,” Wills says. “She was very generous of her time. She would spend long hours talking to students who had questions about the material or about their careers.”
A memorial service will be held for Chen from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Kellogg House Pomona.