Sunset Park student earns prestigious national scholarship

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Call her an activist academic.

A politically active Sunset Park student has been tapped for a prestigious scholarship program, but she said she was surprised to be chosen as one of the 2018 Milken Scholars, who receive $10,000 and a lifetime of mentoring and resources.

“I was not expecting it at all,” said Joyce Wu, a recent Stuyvesant High School grad who is headed to Yale University this fall. “The interview was pretty intense. It was definitely the hardest interview I had ever had.”

Wu grew up in Sunset Park with her parents and two siblings after her parents immigrated from China in the late 1990s. Growing up in a low-income household, with working-class parents who didn’t speak English, Wu developed empathy for the less-fortunate, and as the first in her family to be able go to college, she is acutely aware of her own privilege, which inspired her to be an activist while she also juggled her studies.

During her sophomore year, Wu was already neck-deep in extra-curriculars, as the captain of the cross-country and track team and the executive director of Stuyvesant’s biannual hackathon, but she was also outraged about Guantanamo Bay, the infamous U.S. military prison where terrorism suspects are held without constitutional protections. So she and a dozen other students marched into Stuy High wearing orange prison jumpsuits in a protest to raise awareness about the human rights violations as a part of the high school’s Amnesty International club.

At Stuyvesant, where students are so immersed in academics, Wu said she wanted to help he classmates see beyond their books.

“Yes, academics are a priority, but sometimes I feel like Stuyvesant students don’t tend to look beyond that and care about different social issues going on in the world or even in their own community,” she said.

Wu has protested El Salvador’s abortion laws and organized a demonstration at Grand Central Station against President Trump’s proposed border wall.

But the budding activist is also an artist and a computer scientist, and an interdisciplinary program at Yale University combining visual arts and computers will help her pursue just that. She’s interested in virtual reality and augmented reality, which are often used for entertainment, but Wu wants to use those technologies to make a social impact.

“I’m very, very interested in how virtual reality can get people to empathize with other people,” she said. “In society, the biggest thing that allows people to connect with other people is empathy — just understanding what other people are going through.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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