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Meet the graduates: Wendy Chu

05/03/16 - BOSTON, MA. - Wendy Chu SSHÕ15 poses for a portrait on May 3, 2016. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Wendy Chu chose to attend Northeastern because she felt the university “stretched the definition of college student.” Even though she had always been interested in public service and social impact, Northeastern helped her find opportunities to conduct research, engage with the community, gain real-world work experience on co-op, and discover new countries and cultures abroad.

Four years later, Chu, SSH’16, is a graduating senior with a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics, and she says that coming to Northeastern was the best decision she’s ever made. A University Scholar, her many accomplishments include a co-op at a White House initiative, working across student-led and tech startups, studying on Dialogues in China and the Netherlands, and serving as a magazine editor of the Northeastern University Political Review.

This fall, Chu will attend Harvard Law School, where she will explore her interests in the federal regulatory system. And this summer, she’ll be participating in another Dialogue program—this one in India—focused on studying climate change science and policy. Here, she reflects on her Northeastern experience and what’s next.

At Northeastern, you’ve participated in Dialogue of Civilizations programs in China and the Netherlands and spent an Alternative Spring Break in Costa Rica. How have your global experiences shaped your Northeastern experience?

I’ve had the amazing opportunity to travel across three continents through the university. Ultimately, the global opportunities have rooted me with a better understanding of how public policy and governance affect different cultures and societies. In China, I became fascinated by how NGOs were uniquely shaped by the state—and by the political theories that underpin our conventional understanding of civil society. After the Dialogue, I further explored that relationship as a research intern at Harvard Business School. It was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t have had without that Dialogue. It really helped open doors for me—perhaps one of the major reasons I was able to co-op at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Describe that first co-op experience, and what it meant to you.

My co-op was in D.C. working for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The experience absolutely changed my life. We worked across 24 government agencies to facilitate increased access to and participation in federal programs for underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. It was a daunting mission for our small cohort of about 15—the staff and interns were kept busy, to say the least. I was able to work on fascinating projects across the initiative’s data liberation, small business development, and nonprofit capacity-building portfolios. I even helped author Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s briefing papers for his visit to Hawaii. This co-op showed me how executive authority and discretion can affect governmental impact. I knew then that I wanted to work within the government to make good happen.

After D.C., I participated in a Dialogue of Civilizations in the Netherlands, where we studied sustainable urban transportation design. It was a civil engineering Dialogue where we examined multimodal street layouts and low-stress bikeway design. As a political science student, I was especially interested in how technocratic regulations enabled transportation systems that made biking, walking, and transit attractive. On that Dialogue, I began to understand that seemingly nonpartisan regulations had political roots. The experience furthered my interest in administrative law—something that I’ll be exploring at Harvard.

Can you elaborate on your thoughts about beginning law school and what you plan to study?

I’ll be starting at Harvard Law School this fall. My professional interests lie in the federal regulatory system—I want to work in the executive branch to get stuff done. At Harvard, I’ll be studying administrative law; ideally, my JD will allow me to draft cohesive technocratic regulations and align them with choice architecture principles. This would marry my interest in behavioral economics with my interest in law and public policy. Ultimately, of course, I’m not quite sure where I’ll end up—which is part of the fun. I’m tremendously excited about exploring as much as I can at Harvard.

You’ve also seen Northeastern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem at work, having worked at the IDEA venture New Grounds Food. How did that opportunity unfold?

After my co-op at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I realized two things: that I wanted to return to government, and that truly valuable servants think boldly, creatively, and broadly. I made the conscious decision to work outside of the public sector in order to develop a unique skill set, understand what drives impact, and learn how good teams work. To that end, I decided to delve into the startup scene. I joined Northeastern’s vibrant entrepreneurial scene—one of the university’s incredible strengths. Through the (what was then called) the Entrepreneurship Immersion Program, I connected with New Grounds Food, an IDEA-backed startup. I joined as the marketing director as its Kickstarter campaign took off.

While there, I designed a three-pronged marketing strategy and worked with national media outlets like Oprah Magazine. At New Grounds Food, I was able to set my own agenda: I identified strategic gaps in the marketing plan, crafted projects to fill those gaps, and then executed the solutions. Having the freedom to set your own tasks is liberating and intellectually satisfying. New Grounds Food was an incredible place to build my skills.

What will you remember most about your Northeastern experience?

I’ll remember how much I was able to explore as an undergraduate. I came to Northeastern because I was impressed with how much I could stretch the definition of a college student. I thought that freedom would challenge me into becoming a better person—and I was right. Over the past four years, I’ve briefed the secretary of education, supported the public relations front for a 440 percent-funded Kickstarter campaign, constructed street design interventions in the Netherlands, and worked on a financial technology startup’s product development team to construct the business case for our launch. I think I’ll remember that anything felt possible here.