Life is full of irony, and often, the convergence of circumstances can lead to one’s destiny. That is how Guiyou Huang, Ph.D., who becomes Edinboro University’s 19th president today describes his path to higher education, first as a professor, then as a department chair, honors program head, dean, provost and ultimately a president. The Edinboro presidency will be the second for Dr. Huang, who has served as chancellor of Louisiana State University at Alexandria (LSUA) since 2017.
Born and raised in China, Dr. Huang earned his Bachelor of Arts in English at Qufu Normal University, a teachers college in Qufu, China, the hometown of Chinese philosopher and educator Confucius. He spent seven years in Qufu, a culturally conservative city of 250,000 – four as a student and three as a professor – before moving to Beijing University, where he earned a Graduate Studies Completion Diploma in English.
It was a high school teacher, recognizing his gift for language, who had given him a text book, written in Japanese, and encouraged him to pursue graduate studies.
“This teacher had seen me studying while the other students were napping. She and her husband were very influential in my life. My parents, who were not well-educated, advised me to follow my teacher’s guidance.” Up until that time, Dr. Huang, who was a strong chemistry and physics student and was “pretty good” at math, had not thought about pursuing language and a teaching career.
But life is full of surprises. Although he spent only nine months in high school before moving on to university, he had encountered the teacher, who was one of a handful of women to have a profound impact on his life. Another, a secretary in the English Department at Beijing University, suggested he study in an English-speaking country.
The idea of leaving China was not new to him. His parents, having lived through the country’s Cultural Revolution, the war with Japan, and the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang-led government of the Republic of China and the Communist Party of China, had encouraged their children to pursue a broader world.
Along with his two siblings, Dr. Huang chose to leave his native country. In 1989, he moved to the United States and Texas A&M University to pursue a Ph.D. in English. His sister earned an MBA and now lives in Australia, and his brother, who studied in Pennsylvania, returned to China, where he works in international trade.
“All of us are much better educated than either of our parents.” Although his parents did not have much formal education, they instilled in their children abiding values, Dr. Huang said.
She listened to the radio a lot – public broadcasting – and especially enjoyed the narration of novels.”
Both of his parents are now deceased, but his father had an opportunity to visit him in Allentown, Pa., where Dr. Huang was then a young professor at Kutztown University. “My father was very impressed with my house, which was quite modest, and the maple tree in my yard.” He was so captivated by the maple tree (uncommon in China) that he dug up a root from the tree and took it back to China, where he planted it in the yard of the family home. “That maple tree is still there.”
Chinese culture emphasizes moral, intellectual and physical education, but it also stresses the importance of humility. “In China, if you are told you are proud, it is not a compliment. Self-promotion and boastfulness are discouraged.”
Even though he spent a number of years in the city Confucius called home, Dr. Huang is a bit of a critic of the thought leader, who advocated for a tightly structured, hierarchical order with men as leaders and women playing a lesser role.
While working on his doctorate at Texas A&M, he served as both an editorial and teaching assistant. After earning his Ph.D. in 1993, he served as a lecturer at Texas A&M before heading north to Pennsylvania and Kutztown University in 1995, where he spent nine years progressing through the faculty ranks, serving as English department chair and director of the University Honors Program.
It was on a trip back to China in 1996 that he met his wife, Jennifer Yufeng Qian, Ed.D, at the Beijing airport. Dr. Qian, on her first trip abroad, was navigating the airport en route to SUNY Buffalo, where she would be serving as a lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages in Literature. He offered to help her, which marked the beginning of a relationship that led to their marriage in Allentown in 1998.
Although Drs. Huang and Qian left Pennsylvania in 2004 for Michigan, they have always considered Pennsylvania home.
Not only were they married in Pennsylvania, he became a U.S. citizen in Philadelphia in 1998, and their son, George, was born in Allentown in 2000. Their daughter, Claire, was born in Florida.
Dr. Huang spent a year in Michigan at Grand Valley State University, where he directed the honors college, served as a professor of English, and supported coordination and strategic planning for Grand Valley State’s new College of Interdisciplinary Studies.
From 2005 to 2010, he served first as dean of Undergraduate Studies and Programs and then as dean of the Biscayne College of Liberal Arts at St. Thomas University in Florida. He moved to Norwich University in Vermont in July 2010, where he served as senior vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty until December 2016, shortly before he assumed the role of chancellor of LSUA.
Although he enjoyed teaching, Dr. Huang said he appreciates the broader impact that can be achieved in executive leadership. “Good leaders have an opportunity to drive transformational change in the lives of many students, and that is very satisfying.”
Those who have worked with Dr. Huang say he is an inclusive and transparent leader, who does not sugarcoat. Data-driven and strategic, he is inclined to clearly state the facts. Well-liked by faculty and staff, he is visible on campus, works closely with student leadership and is a regular at the dining hall.
The straight-talking new president acknowledges that higher education certainly faces many challenges and addressing those challenges will take time. “But I am quite confident that the Edinboro community, working together, will make significant strides. Persistence and passion, guided by a compelling vision, will allow us to move forward together.”