Ivy Leaf - Spring 2014
Evolving Through Experience
By Shari R. Routch
Whether it was due to cultural pressures, family expectations, or personal drive, Diego Wu came to Penn State knowing he wanted to become a doctor. “Going to medical school was something I wanted for a really long time,” Wu states. “My dad’s a doctor in Mexico, my sister was pre-med, and coming from an Asian background, there was a lot of cultural and family pressure on me to go to med school.”
And that was Wu’s focused path through three and a half years at Penn State Altoona. He majored in biology, spent his freshman summer interning in Mexico shadowing doctors, his sophomore summer in Chile with a medical study abroad program, and his junior year summer interning at Janssen Pharmaceuticals [Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical company] in the Drug Discovery Department conducting research. He spent his time during the school year doing rotations for Altoona Family Physicians as part of the Human Dimensions of Health Care class. His path was set; his future was planned. But all that changed in his last semester of college.
One of Wu’s college mentors, Director of Residence Life Maria Mosley, strongly suggested that he apply for the new student leadership program, Leadership for Life. Wu was hesitant, given his other time commitments, but applied at the last minute because of Mosley’s insistence. “She talked me into it. Every single time I saw her she said ‘you need to do this, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.’” In retrospect, Wu agrees. “It was a huge experience. I tell people, it was a life changer for me.”
Explains Wu, “Every person who came in had a completely different story and point of view. And each was successful in their own way.” Growing up, Wu had been taught to define success by how much money one earned. “Coming from a very traditional Asian background, and growing up in the Mexican culture, success was becoming a multimillionaire. The whole concept of just finding a job that you love doesn’t really exist.”
“The speakers coming in each week [for Leadership for Life] weren’t necessarily rich, but they were enjoying their life. They were having fun, and they were doing something they cared about. You could see the passion in them when they talked about what they were doing, and how they were making a difference in their communities. That’s honestly what got me.”
Until this point, Wu had only had doctors as professional role models and the picture they painted wasn’t positive. “Every single doctor I met said ‘don’t go to med school, worst decision of my life.’ And these were very successful, financially stable, respected doctors,” Wu states. In contrast, the leadership program speakers were saying “go for it, you can do it” and encouraging the students to follow their passions and pursue a career where they could make a positive impact on others.
When Wu decided to scrap plans for medical school toward the end of his college career, he thought, “what else am I good at?” Being heavily involved on campus, as well as a resident assistant, he was drawn to the idea of working for a college in the student affairs field. And then he learned of a joint degree program at Penn State combining an Educational Leadership graduate degree with a law degree. He was immediately intrigued.
Wu’s attraction to medicine was “the science behind it, trying to figure out a puzzle that no one else can,” he explains. Which didn’t make the leap to his new career path too extreme. Wu is applying to law school for fall 2014, with the hope of entering this dual degree program. “Researching what the law is about, it just seemed to fit. It’s just figuring out different puzzles. You are given a case and you need to figure out and solve the legal puzzle. And with this degree, I can incorporate two fiery passions together.”
And of course, switching from medical school to law school softened the blow for his parents. “I think my dad understood that being a doctor is a huge commitment. He works all of the time, and I never got to spend a lot of time with him growing up. I see a little bit of regret in my dad’s eyes,”says Wu.
Taking the year off after graduating in May 2013, Wu is working in Penn State Altoona’s Student Life Office as an assistant coordinator, while studying for the LSAT and applying to law school. In this role, Wu supervises student events, advocates for them, and helps them with whatever question they come with to the office. It has reinforced his decision to pursue a career in both law and higher education.
“I never thought of myself as an educator,” states Wu. “I thought you would have to be a professor, teaching a subject. But I see how I can educate students in a lot of different ways and be a mentor for them. I love interacting with the students, impacting them in a positive way.”
When asked what he sees himself doing with this dual degree, Wu says with a grin, “President of Penn State. I want to stand up for something and make positive change. And I want to have the knowledge to make that change, which is where a law degree and a higher education degree both come in. And, ultimately, I would love to give back to an institution that has given me so much.”