A&M-Central Texas Faculty Member Shares Her Love for Science and Math

By Karen Clos
February 17, 2023

A&M-Central Texas Faculty Member Shares Her Love for Science and Math

Shuyang Gu, 41, was born humbly, but securely, to parents, Fang Che and Ming Hua Gu in the Northern Chinese Province of Heibei. And, while neither parent could have known it then, their only child – a girl – would grow up to walk in the shoes of her maternal grandfather and fulfill the educational goals unavailable to her parents.

Her father, an engineer, and her mother, a kindergarten teacher, grew up during the cultural revolution, she explained, completing only a high school education, and assigned their respective careers by government officials.

The fact that they may have wanted more was irrelevant. Still, their innate talents and passions would not be extinguished. From an early age, Gu says, both parents shared their love of learning: her father introducing his daughter to physics and science as early as her fifth year, and her mother sharing her love for art and geography.

That much notwithstanding, she says, she had a typical childhood. She lived in a tight-knit community, knew dozens of other families and neighborhood acquaintances, wore a uniform to school on Mondays as a sign or respect for her country and its flag, and spent hours playing video games.

“One of the company families who also lived in the building had purchased a Nintendo console which made them very popular with everyone,” she laughed. “All the kids in the neighborhood went to that home to play.”

Imagine for a moment seeing her memories scroll like individual photographs played on a nostalgic carousel. Those seeing them might believe that this was not a child born more than 7,000 miles away; this was the child who lived next door.

When not jockeying for time on the gaming console, she and the others amused themselves by playing hide and seek, challenging each other to a vigorous game of rubber band skipping, or embarking on adventures to the nearby forest with views of the waterfront.

More than almost anything, she gushed, she loved going to school, playing with her Papillon mix puppy, Taotao, and getting presents from her grandmother, Enzi Wang, who often traveled abroad to Canada.

As any grandchild on the planet may attest, grandparents are the not-so-secret bringer of gifts. And, more times than not, they are untroubled by political context or other vagaries of sometimes complicated lives. No, these grandmothers and grandfathers think only of the joy brought to a favored child, and less of the possible consequences. And so it was that Gu, throughout her childhood, enjoyed occasional luxuries – both small and large – that were so rare in her neighborhood.

She was sent a pair of Nike tennis shoes and a closet full of western clothes – including a pair of never-before-seen blue jeans which she wore until they literally faded away. But, more importantly for her peers, while she was not the first to have a bicycle, she was the first to own a pink one with white tires and a pedal break.

“We were all fascinated with a bike that had a pedal brake,” she said, as her dark brown eyes shimmered with nostalgia. “But we were fascinated with anything from the west.”

Today, in the here and now, it is not commercial or material items that bring Gu joy. It is the hope that the life she has built for herself honors both those who gave her so much and those whose stories she has heard, but never met.

Her grandfather, Jinjiang Gu, was the son of a customs officer, she explained. But, despite their relative riches, a university education was not easily accessible to all, if any. The country’s literacy rate during those years, she continued, was devastatingly low.

In response, Jinjiang’s father – Gu’s great grandfather – was determined to teach his son to read. It was a rigorous and unforgiving curriculum, she added, he was allowed only three days a year away from studies and those studies were focused on The Four Books and Five Classics, estimated to have been written during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

“I read an autobiography about him,” she beamed, as if touching the surface of a sacred place quietly sheltered in her heart. “He was so devoted to learning that he accomplished the impossible. He went on to go to university and graduated with a degree in law.”

As evidence, Gu shares a photograph of her grandfather’s achievement. It is in Chinese symbols, references the 34th year of the Republic of China in what would have then been 1945. The diploma reveals words attesting to his education and is written in columns from the top to the bottom arranged from right to left.

“Imagine what it must have been like,” she said, her voice echoing the possibilities of what her grandfather must have all but certainly overcome just to have earned that diploma and hold it in his hands.

The attached photo of him in the center of the diploma itself is otherwise unremarkable. He is stoic for the camera, his pride in that moment, if he dared reveal it, was his own to keep.

“Later on in his life, he wrote about his journey. He said that science and technology was the way forward,” she said.

Little did he know then that not only would his very words become true for the world, but also, for one he would never meet: his daughter’s only daughter, Shuyang.

Her path, she said, may have begun at her father’s knee, as he patiently instructed her – at the tender age of 5 – to appreciate the power of physics and the application of mathematics. But her grandfather’s memory would be with her for her entire life.

“My family tells me that he held me when I came home from the hospital,” she said tenderly. “He nicknamed me ‘Dandan’ – which means ‘red’ in Chinese because the first time he saw me, my face was that color.”

Today, Gu, an assistant professor in the A&M-Central Texas College of Business Administration, sees the fabric of her family, their innate love for learning and their triumphs, as the foundation of her own accomplishments. Especially because her profession, she says, is the common thread that runs through all of them.

“When I saw the advertisement for a position in the College of Business Administration here at A&M-Central Texas, I applied right away,” she laughed. “And when I was offered the position following an interview, I was so happy. Not only would I be doing the teaching I wanted, but I was able to stay in Texas – a place I had grown to love.”

At the University for her third year, and now an assistant professor, Gu has settled in, teaching data science and specializing in social networks and their technological foundations. She has nothing but praise for the environment in which she works, a deep respect for colleagues who share their teaching and learning experiences, and a desire to ignite within her students the same love of learning that had been her generational gift.

Perhaps this is the way fate works. Not often, but sometimes, what is denied to one generation is manifested through another. And, in that process, all generations thereafter benefit and their life trajectories are never entirely the same.

That, combined with her own educational achievements, are the gifts she gives to the family that gave her so much and to the University students, she hopes, will use what she has learned to create their own future.

Virtual Advisor