Born in Beijing, Andrew Hsu spent his teenage years harvesting cotton in remote China while trying to get his hands on English books to satisfy his hunger for learning.
He grew up during China's Cultural Revolution, a political movement launched in 1966 by Communist leader Mao Zedong that led to a decade of national chaos and nearly 2 million deaths.
After Hsu earned his diploma in hydraulic engineering from Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University, he came to the United States and the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he earned his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in 1986.
"I've always wanted to help other people with their education," he said, "and this is one of the best places in the country to do that."
Last May, he was installed as president of the College of Charleston in South Carolina. His goal, he says, is for the college to offer an innovative liberal arts program with a strong technology component.
Hsu sat down with VOA's Student Union to talk about higher education, and let us know that he learned English in the mountains of Shanxi Province in China by listening to Voice of America's "Learning English" programs on his shortwave radio.
This transcript has been condensed for clarity and brevity.
VOA: You believe more women should be in engineering, and that one of your missions in the school is to expand your liberal arts program to include more technology, with the push for more women to get involved with that. Please explain that, and why you think it's so important.
Hsu: The City of Charleston has really become an international destination for manufacturing and for high-tech industry. In fact, we have 250 software companies, many of them startup companies, and some of them well-established software companies here in the city.
And we also have Boeing, Bosch, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz — so many international manufacturing companies here.
So as a public institution, we do have the responsibilities of training the workforce for the local economy, and that is why I believe that we need to expand our programs to include engineering.
Diversity is extremely important for any company in order for them to develop products that would make sense not only for men, but also for women. And so, it's really important to have engineers that are from diverse backgrounds — men, women, minority. And that's what we're aiming for.
Our campus is 65% female. So, our hope is that if we have engineering programs, which we will (have) in the fall of 2020, many of our female students will get into engineering.
VOA: That includes not only women from the state and nationally, but also internationally?
Hsu: We have students from 30-some countries and a few hundred international students, but we would love to have more international students.
VOA: What are some of the ways in which you are trying to fulfill this mission?
Hsu: What we're trying to do is to have all of our science and computer science students learn more about liberal arts. All of our students are required (to have) two years of foreign languages, for example, and we have a very strong core of liberal arts education as general education for all of our students. But what we're also going to try to do is to make sure that our liberal arts students would also have enough exposure to technology, so that when they go out in the world, they can function as a well-educated, well-rounded citizen. These days, being a lawyer or a doctor, or whatever, if you don't understand technology, then you're not really well-educated.
VOA: Not only is it important for the job market here, but internationally, right?
Hsu: Exactly. So, we're living in a global economy whether you like it or not, and it's becoming a global village. Global fluency is extremely important for the future generation. So, we're trying very hard to make sure that our students have not only the language fluency, but also the cultural fluency, as well as the global experience throughout their four years of education.
VOA: What do you hope to have accomplished 10 years from now?
Hsu: I would say that we're now a leader in higher education, innovation, and we have achieved the status of one of the best universities in the U.S. and in the world.
VOA: Are there any insights you would like to share about the university?
Hsu: We're a clearly local university with (an) international reach. We have many partners around the globe, and we look forward to developing many more international partners.