Advocate for Equality
USC Dornsife alumnus Daniel Wu has received USA Today’s All-USA College Academic Team scholarship for his commitment to civic engagement in Los Angeles.By Ambrosia Brody
May 18, 2012
During his freshman year in USC Dornsife, Daniel Wu volunteered in South Central Los Angeles, where he listened to new immigrants talk about the difficulties they encountered attempting to find work and better housing. He wanted to do what he could to help.
His volunteer work through the SCitizen Program sparked Wu’s passion for social activism and civic engagement. He decided that instruction in public policy and urban planning would give him tools to help people build better lives.
For his work on immigrant rights in the L.A. area, Wu has earned USA Today’s All USA-College Academic Team scholarship, an annual award given 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. Wu was selected from a nationwide pool as a first team winner and received $2,500. Second and third team winners received certificates.
“I feel that I’ve gone off the beaten path,” said Wu, 23. “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 L.A. 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 in 2010. “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 North Area Neighborhood Development Council, an independent organization promoting public participation in city matters. Among his accomplishments on the board, Wu and board member Samantha Foley helped to ensure that the USC Farmers Market on University Avenue remains in business. Foley graduated in 2010 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 in USC Dornsife, who served as Wu’s academic adviser. “He’s an extraordinary gifted scholar and community citizen.”
Wu is currently in Cambridge, Mass., 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 city 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 from political science to public policy and urban planning. In the field, he connected with local citizens, community activists, city 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, Calif. In the ’80s, 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.”