President-elect Andrew T. Hsu will spend time with the College of Charleston community on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, for the first time since the Board of Trustees elected him as the College’s 23rd president.
Hsu will officially take the helm on May 16, 2019, the culmination of a lifelong goal of becoming a university president. Read more on his extensive academic background.
The College Today caught up with Hsu ahead of his official welcome event to find out what makes him tick, why he made the leap from aerospace engineer to professor and what he does to unwind at the end of a long week.
Where in China did you grow up?
I was born in Beijing, but when I was 6 years old my family moved to a mountainous area called the Shanxi province.
You have said before that you learned English as a teenager. What was that process like?
It just so happened that I had an uncle who studied in the U.S., who was a graduate of the University of Minnesota, so he tutored me for a few months. Then I studied English on my own for several years. At the time, there were no textbooks I could find. I used children’s books like Pinocchio and Gulliver’s Travels – the abbreviated versions.
As an undergraduate, what type of activities did you enjoy doing outside of class?
In those days we pretty much just spent all our time studying, but with what little time I had outside of the classroom I enjoyed running, badminton, Ping-Pong – simple sports.
How did the undergraduate system in China differ from what you’ve experienced in the United States?
The education in China is more narrow. Especially as an engineer, you study primarily engineering courses. There is very little diversity – nothing in terms of a liberal arts education.
What brought you to the United States?
The U.S. has the best higher education institutions in the world and that’s what attracts most of the international students. So, I came as an international student to Georgia Tech.
What did you do for NASA as an engineering contractor?
I worked in computational fluid dynamics. Basically, I studied the use of computers to simulate fluid flows. At the time the NASA center where I worked at was a propulsion center, so I actually focused on developing computer tools to simulate something called the ramjet engine. That was a lot of fun just playing on computers.
What did you do at Rolls-Royce?
Rolls-Royce, interestingly enough, is an aircraft engine company. Many people think about cars, and ask me if I have ever driven a Rolls-Royce car, but actually there are two distinct companies; one is a car company and the other is an aerospace company. I developed tools for the designers to use to design an aircraft engine combustor. I would love to drive a Rolls-Royce, but unfortunately I’ve never even touched a Rolls-Royce before.
Why did you leave private industry to go back into academia?
I’ve always liked teaching. In fact, even when I was a post-doctoral student – and even when I was an engineer working for Rolls-Royce – I was teaching and I found that teaching, interacting with the students, brought me a lot of joy and more satisfaction, so I decided to become a faculty member.
What is your favorite food?
It’s milk chocolate, but unfortunately, of course, I’m lactose intolerant and then I’m allergic to chocolate. So, I try to avoid it most of the time, but sometimes I just can’t resist.
What is your favorite movie or TV show?
I actually don’t watch movies that much but when I have time – or when I used to have time – I watched a lot of television. My favorite show is Seinfeld. And I’ve watched every single episode, multiple times.
Do you play any sports and, if so, what are your favorites?
Tennis by far is my most favorite sport now. I just love the challenge. It’s a very good way to forget about everything I’m doing and focus on the competition. Tennis is a very mental game: You have to analyze not only your own game, but your opponent’s game to figure out how you can win.
What are your favorite sports to watch?
Tennis. I would not get cable TV if it were not for the Tennis Channel.
What are your favorite tournaments to watch?
It’s the big four: Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the French Open and the Australian Open.
What is the last book you read?
One of the alums of the College of Charleston sent me a short history of Charleston (Robert Rosen’s A Short History of Charleston) about three weeks ago, and that was the last book that I read. And it’s a fascinating story about fascinating people and fascinating history. Actually, it talked a little bit about how the founders of the nation essentially founded the College of Charleston. To me, that’s just amazing.
Do you play a musical instrument?
Well, I can’t say I play a musical instrument. I would like to play a musical instrument and I try to do that now and then. I loved the violin and I tried to learn, but I’ve been trying to learn for 50 years and I still have not learned much.
What is your favorite song or musical composition?
I love Brahms’ German Requiem – that music just speaks to my soul. In fact, I sang in a chorus with the Cleveland Orchestra 30 years ago, and I fell in love with the piece.
Do you have a nickname?
No. If I did, I wouldn’t want to mention it.
What types of activities do you enjoy doing with your family?
We’re a tennis family. Every single member in our family plays tennis, so on our vacations we pick places that have tennis resorts and the family enjoys doubles. Everybody is extremely competitive. People get mad if they lose.
Who’s the best tennis player in the Hsu family?
I’ll have to say my girls – my four girls. They’re all better than me now.