Orlando architect helps etch a community

BY FRANK SHALA

If you visit most any Valencia College campuses, you will see the impact of Orlando-based architect C.T. Hsu – not only the design of the buildings, but also his impact on the administration, faculty and staff, and, most importantly, the students who fill those structures.

“I feel the only reason I am here today, for me to become who I am today, to be able to achieve the goals before even coming to Florida, to the United States, is education,” Hsu says.

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Business opportunities brought Hsu, a native of Taiwan, to Orlando in the early 1980s, where he predicted the Sunbelt would be promising for the architectural field. Already the father of two children, he believed that Florida was the perfect choice for both family and business.

“When my wife and I came to Orlando, we didn’t know anybody,” Hsu says. He founded his firm, C.T. Hsu and Associates, in 1984.

His first design project with Valencia College was a renovation of the downtown center. The founder of a still-youthful firm, Hsu was thankful that Valencia gave him a chance to prove his talents. CT’s acumen consistently boosted his firm to the top of a state-mandated, open-bidding process that resulted in the design of buildings that include the University Center on West Campus and the Valencia College Criminal Justice Institute near East Campus.

Building 11 "University Center" at SunriseWest Campus

Although arriving in town without knowing a soul, Hsu has created and fostered many friendships over the years, a gift that Valencia College president Sandy Shugart treasures.

“CT brings people together. He’s a gatherer,” Shugart explains. “If he has a friend he cares for and respects in one avenue of his life, he brings them together with friends in other avenues of his life.”

In 1994, Hsu and his wife, Jean, established the Hsu Family Endowed Scholarship at Valencia Foundation to support minority students pursuing higher education. In 2006, C.T. and his wife, Jean, contributed $150,000 to establish the Hsu Family East Campus Development Fund to support teaching and learning, which resulted in a $600,000 endowment. His family’s giving commitment also includes significant donations earmarked to scholarships, faculty endowed chairs and program support. Throughout the last 20 years, Hsu has enthusiastically contributed to countless events benefiting Valencia Foundation and other organizations. C.T. also encourage other colleagues and businesses to get involved, according to foundation board chair emeritus Helen Von Dolteren-Fournier.

“I personally feel this is an investment, not a donation. To me, it’s an investment in the future of the community,” Hsu adds.

hsus

Hsu joined the foundation board in 2001. Along with fellow architect and board member Alan Helman, C.T. encouraged the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to transform their social golf tournament into a fundraiser that supports Valencia Foundation. The tournament is in its 25th year, and has now partnered with Valencia for 14 years.

“It has raised very significant money for Valencia. Every year there is a revenue stream coming,” he points out.

That amounts to more than $250,000.

Hsu and Helman were equally instrumental in molding the pre-architecture transfer program at Valencia, a 2+2+2 program, through which a student can complete an associate’s degree at Valencia, a bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and a master’s degree at the University of Florida (UF).

The idea was hatched in a conversation with Dr. Shugart during a foundation gathering, as the architects made a compelling case for keeping talent close to home.

“The program really benefits us because now we have a pool of talented, young architects we can hire here in Orlando,” Hsu explains. “I am very proud to see the fulfillment of this program, not just through me, but the total team effort.”

Allen Watters, Valencia College’s architecture program chair, recognizes the role model that Hsu has created for the next generation. “C.T. Hsu’s office has set a tremendous example for our architecture students through the high professional standard they set as well the buildings they have constructed on Valencia’s Campus,” he says.

Hsu hired a recent graduate of the 2+2+2 program, Diana Ariza, who was one of 16 Valencia alumni in the first graduating class from UF’s CityLab-Orlando this year.

“I was very fortunate because when I started at Valencia there wasn’t an architectural program here in Orlando,” explains Ariza, who was working as a part-time intern for Hsu while attending Valencia.

She credits her boss for, not only her employment with the firm, but also for the lessons she has gleaned from him as a person. “I’ve learned a lot of things from him. Just looking at the way he manages his firm, at the way he maintains relationships. Not only maintains them, but looks for ways to make them grow and deepen relationships with clients,” Ariza explains.

Hsu began studying architecture at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan. He then moved to the United States in 1974 to pursue a master’s degree in advanced studies of architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

After graduating from MIT, he accepted a job offer in Wyoming. His wife, who was studying in Boston at the time, joined him in the cross-country move. The two discovered Casper College in Casper, Wyo., which had an articulated transfer program with the University of Wyoming. This intrigued Jean. While experiencing the transition in geography and college, the Hsus also witnessed the power of helping students.

“I still vividly remember that the admissions and the college officers were very kind to me,” C.T. says. “They basically said that since you are working in Casper, we can help you enroll your wife and only pay in-state tuition. That’s when I realized community college can be a really good bridge in helping a lot of people.”

Today, Jean Hsu has a master’s degree from MIT, earned within the past few years.

Her husband believes that success emerges from constructing the right mindset and preparing to engage whatever life may throw your way.

“Education is the key to success,” he explains. “I feel education is the key to not only your future success, but to your family, personal life, and to the well-being of the whole country.”

Frank Shala is a Valencia College journalism student.

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