Passion for Students and Research Fuels Dr. Hou-Min Chang
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Dr. Hou-min Chang has been at NC State for nearly 50 years completing research, teaching students, and providing incredible insight for the future of the Paper Science and Engineering program. He has numerous accolades and accomplishments, including Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award from NC State Alumni Association in 1993 and 1994, a TAPPI Fellow, member of American Chemical Society, a Fellow of the International Academy of Science and most recently was presented with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. Recently I had the privilege to sit down with Dr. Chang and speak to him about his early life, education, teaching history, and his integral involvement in PIE (Paper International Experience) trips to China.
History leading to NC State
Dr. Chang was born and raised in Taiwan, China, where he later attended National Taiwan University and graduated in 1962 with a B.S. in Forestry. Forestry was originally not his first choice degree, but lucky for us at NC State, he decided to pursue a career in the field. After graduation, Dr. Chang completed his one required year of service in the army in Taiwan. Upon finishing his service, he moved to Seattle where he attended graduate school at the University of Washington and received his M.S. in Chemistry in 1966 and a Ph.D. in Wood Chemistry in 1968. He was then put in touch with former department head and dean of the College of Natural Resources at NC State, Eric Ellwood, which led to Dr. Chang’s arrival to NC State in 1968 as a post doctorate, and in 1970, he became a professor in Wood and Paper Science. Dr. Chang is a staple in the Department of Forest Biomaterials and the Paper Science and Engineering program, except for a short stint with Weyerhaeuser in 1976.
Not your Typical Retirement
In 2005, Dr. Chang “retired” from teaching at NC State, but that did not mean his work was done within the program. He still works full time for the university without pay, which may not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing retirement. When asked what keeps him coming back to NC State, he said, “I am just having fun being here. Research is my passion, so I am doing it for the fun and for the students.” Some of his research interests are biomass conversion, the chemistry of lignin, and pollution abatement. One of the strongest traits that are instilled in PSE students is a stewardship and service attitude. Dr. Chang exemplifies that as a faculty member, which is always reassuring and refreshing to see values put to action. Dr. Chang added, “The key is that when you get old you have to keep your mind and body working.” He does this by coming into work everyday and exercising regularly. Impressive would be an understatement!
Every other year, a group of PSE juniors and seniors are taken on a Paper International Experience (PIE) trip for two weeks over the summer. Travels have included various countries including Brazil, Finland, and China among others. Dr. Chang has played an integral role in the trips to China, which took place in 2007, 2013, and most recently in 2017. These trips are made possible by generous donations from donors, companies, local alumni, alumni in China, and some of his own contacts, which led to a highly touted trip this past summer by attendees. He said that going to China gives students the chance to see brand new mills, which are rare in the United States. Dr. Chang stated, “Students have to understand it’s not just about the machines, it’s the people there. I want students to see new things that they might not see in the United States.” He said that along with seeing various mills and famous sites, such as the Great Wall of China and Confucius’s Temple, getting free food is always necessary on the trips, which various sources confirmed, he was excellent at doing. He added that this past PIE trip was one of the largest yet with 38 students attending, making it tougher to plan, but is a great problem to have. It is an exciting time in the program and he feels the PIE trip is another unique advantage to being a part of PSE.
Dr. Chang continues to support the PSE program and its undergraduate and graduate students. He supports undergraduate scholarships, PIE trips and graduate fellowships with his own generosity and actively encourages others to give back as well. Having the chance to sit down with him was a pleasure and immediately I understood why he has been here for nearly 50 years. He has a brilliant mind and continues to provide exceptional value to the program. Our college, department and college are very lucky to have Dr. Chang and his impact will be felt for many years to come. Thank you Dr. Chang!
By guest blogger Ryan Lee