Wu hopes his UChicago Harris MPP will prepare him to succeed in creating policies to help households become more financially secure.
Headshot of Alexander Wu
Alexander Wu

As the child of a single mother in Orange County, California, Alex Wu, MPP Incoming Class of 2023, saw firsthand the impacts of financial insecurity. “When I was nine, my mom had to sell our house and we were forced to live out of a friend’s spare bedroom. My mom and I moved probably eight times before I was in eighth grade because she was constantly trying to find a place that was financially sustainable.” Informed by those experiences, Wu worked hard to move from financial instability to working in the heart of the financial world.

Wu graduated from New York University in 2015 with a degree in economics and math, and after graduating began working at investment banks, including Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Banking. During his time in the banking industry, Wu has helped struggling companies use complex financial instruments and maneuvers to save millions of dollars and stave off bankruptcy—which got him thinking.

“I began to wonder: Instead of being forced to sell our home, could my mom have kept our home by using tools companies use daily? If companies can use these instruments to stay solvent, why can’t families? Would some of the policies that help large companies remain economically stable also help households? How do we design policies that engender people to be more aware of how to use their money?”

As these questions began eating away at Wu, he made the decision to spend more time and energy supporting his local community in New York. He began volunteering in 2018 as a mentor with Apex for Youth, an organization that serves Asian and immigrant youth from low-­income families in New York.

“I still spend my Saturdays with youth from New York’s Chinese community, tutoring them and helping them with emotional and physical development,” Wu said. “Although it is a stark juxtaposition, it feels good to balance working so close to the money—where money is a game and money begets money—with what I do on the weekends to help struggling families.”

Wu also began volunteering at the Parole Preparation Project, which helps those eligible for parole. “We help them get court documents, coordinate with lawyers, and prepare for the parole meeting.” Having struggled to find a community growing up, Wu says he most enjoys befriending the client and talking to them daily so that they have a sense of community.

“We can’t guarantee parole, but I can guarantee that person has a friend after working with Parole Prep,” Wu said.

Although his lived experiences and volunteering served as constant reminders of the struggles many people face, Wu recognized he needed to return to school. “If I was really going to make an impact in helping communities, I knew I needed a different toolkit than the one I was using in the banking industry. Harris was my first choice for graduate school because I could leverage my existing experience with UChicago’s data and quantitative analysis to propose effective policy.

“And the more I talked with people and attended webinars, the sincerity and caring nature of Harris staff and faculty really came to the forefront. That really drew me in,” Wu said.

Wu said he hopes that by exploring labor and behavioral economics while earning his UChicago Harris Master in Public Policy he will be better prepared to succeed in creating policies to help households become more financially secure. “I may be not sure exactly where my future will take me, but I’m confident my time at Harris will help me decide.”