Spring 2022 grad: Guolong Liang inspired to pursue international ag development

Guolong Liang sitting on a mountain with cloud and forest in the background.
Photo courtesy of Guolong Liang.

Guolong Liang, who grew up in northwestern China, will be graduating with a master’s degree in horticulture in spring 2022. In this Q&A, Liang talks about making the decision to pursue horticulture, the benefits of being a part of the UW–Madison Plant Sciences Graduate Student Council, and his plans to work in international agricultural development – to help communities build sustainable, resilient and just food systems.

Q: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Yinchuan, Ningxia, a beautiful province located in northwestern China. I decided to move to Madison for college when I was 18 and now finishing my master’s degree in the Department of Horticulture.

Q: How did you decide on your program? Why did you choose it?
I would describe my introduction into horticulture as a pure serendipitous event. I was on the pre-med track during my sophomore year in CALS and felt very lost about the future. I overheard [about] an organic vegetable production class in one of the random conversations. And I was intrigued by the familiarity I felt because, back at home, I would volunteer at a family friend’s greenhouse growing pepper and watermelons but that connection was paused for almost two years. After that moment, I started looking into more resources regarding growing plants and eventually became a horticulture major in CALS and finished my bachelor’s degree in 2019. Later that year, I reaffirmed my interest in devoting my career to just and sustainable food systems in local communities and joined the Department of Horticulture as a graduate student soon after.

Q: What were the most meaningful college experiences you had?
My most meaningful experiences in college and graduate school involved meeting great people from a diverse background. I was honored to visit Hokkaido, Japan and Costa Rica, and conduct research in Central Wisconsin to learn about local food systems and ecosystem. The conversations and shared experience with local farmers and stakeholders helped shape my vision towards the relationship between human and ecosystem we reside in. Through those learning journeys, I cherish every single friendship I share with my peers within and outside of UW.

Q: When you think about your time here as student, what are you proud of?
During my time here as a graduate student, I am proud of serving in the Plant Sciences Graduate Student Council (PSGSC) in 2021. We collectively help serve our community by actively strengthening and building connections across departments in UW and reaching out for collaboration with schools outside of UW, in spite of an ongoing global pandemic. It was a great joy and pleasure to share memorable experiences and conversations with my cohort and I am sure those connections will continue to flourish in our futures.

Q: What are your future academic / career plans?
Short-term wise, I would like to work on a farm or a winery within the United States to keep exploring my interest and passion in agriculture. After that, I plan to move back home to reunite with my family and local rural communities in China after 4 years of not seeing them in person. In the longer term, I would love to continue working in the international agricultural development field and help local communities build sustainable, resilient, just food systems.

Q: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with CALS students?
I had a tough time mentally during graduate school navigating personal life and the pandemic. However, through the journey, I eventually realized the importance of mindfulness of my body and mind during trying times. So for my CALS family out there, I would say, quoting one of my mentors, “Listen to your gut,” especially when you are in doubt and confusion. Have faith in yourself and reach out to your community. Intention of self-care and reciprocity can sure go a long way. I will try to follow these words to the best of my ability myself and I invite you to join me on the journey as well.