During his freshman year at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Daniel Wu ’10 volunteered in South Central Los Angeles, where he listened to immigrants talk about the difficulties they encountered attempting to find work and better housing. He wanted to do what he could to help.
Volunteer work through the Office of the Provost’s SCitizen Program sparked a passion for social activism and civic engagement in Wu, who decided that instruction in public policy and urban planning would give him the tools to help people build better lives.
For his work on immigrant rights in the Los Angeles area, Wu earned an All USA-College Academic Team scholarship, an annual award given by USA Today to undergraduate students who excel academically and contribute to society.
Awardees are divided into three teams: first, second and third. Judges base selections on students’ merits, written essays and letters of recommendation. As a first-team winner selected from a nationwide pool, Wu received $2,500. Second- and third-team winners received certificates.
“I feel that I’ve gone off the beaten path,” Wu said. “It’s cool that someone thinks that I am doing something worthwhile.”
As an undergraduate, Wu changed his pre-med major to interdisciplinary studies and joined the efforts at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, a nonprofit group based in Los Angeles. He also founded Campus and Community United at USC to foster discourse between students and the surrounding neighborhoods. The coalition advocates small business development, affordable housing and sustainable design, which lessens negative impact on the environment.
“Through my involvement with community activist organizations, I heard many stories and started to question if the American dream is really about equal opportunity for all,” said Wu, who earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. “By addressing the structural roots of inequity, I will work to ensure the dream doesn’t become a myth.”
Wu’s civic engagement at USC resulted in his 2009 appointment to the Empowerment Congress of the North Area Neighborhood Development Council, an independent organization promoting public participation in civic matters. Among his accomplishments on the board, Wu and board member Samantha Foley ’10 helped to ensure that the USC Farmers Market on University Avenue remains in business. Foley graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international relations from USC Dornsife.
“Daniel really stands out among the students I’ve worked with in my 20 years as a professor,” said Leland Saito, associate professor of sociology at USC Dornsife, who served as Wu’s academic adviser. “He’s an extraordinarily gifted scholar.”
Wu currently is pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology and public policy at Harvard University. With aspirations to become a sociology professor, he also wants to consult with community organizers, activists and civic leaders on planning issues, such as organizational strategy and economic development
At USC, Wu carved his own academic path and created an interdisciplinary major reflective of his diverse interests in American studies, sociology, geography and public policy.
The first-generation college student’s classes, community service projects and research fueled his desire to study affordable housing, public transportation, job opportunities and economic growth. In the classroom, Wu took seminars across several disciplines, including political science, public policy and urban planning. In the field, he connected with local citizens, community activists, civic leaders and organizations.
Stories of men and women who immigrated to the United States resonated with Wu, a Korean and Chinese American who was raised in Cypress. In the 1980s, Wu’s parents left East Asia for Los Angeles, where they once worked long hours at various service-oriented jobs to support their family.
“I’ve realized how lucky I am to be a second-generation Korean and Chinese American,” Wu said. “I want to ensure that the opportunities I have exist for other people.”