April 27, 2011

Emory Profile

Michelle Wu: Hockey fan holds key to summer housing

Michelle Wu

By Margie Fishman

As other campus offices are winding down and discussing plans for the next academic year, Michelle Wu '06C, assistant director of the Office of University Conferences, is gearing up for her busiest season.

Wu arranges housing on the Clairmont Campus for nearly 400 undergraduate and graduate students interning in the Atlanta metro area over the summer. With an annual seasonal housing glut on campus, totaling about 1,000 beds at Clairmont alone, Emory fills its residence halls with interns and conference attendees to bring in revenue during the slower summer months.

Through a concerted marketing push, the Summer Intern Housing Program has exploded since Wu took it on in 2007. She posted videos of the residence halls on Facebook, networked with local employers like Home Depot, and advertised in student newspapers throughout the Southeast.

Local companies thank Wu for providing the interns with secure housing and a student-friendly environment, which translates into better job performance.

Student roommates are matched based on age and work hours. One year, four "Emilys" landed in one apartment and became the best of friends, Wu remembers.

She regularly checks in with the interns and learns what it's like to wake up at 4 a.m. to produce World Cup coverage for CNN or hunt for 1960s wedding dresses for a bridal magazine assignment.

"These students seek out a sense of community and reassurance and, as a University, we're able to provide that to them," says Wu.

Wu knows – she's been a student here herself. While at Emory College, Wu worked in multiple roles for Emory's Office of Residence Life and Housing and after graduation had a one-year fellowship with the Student Activity and Academic Center on the Clairmont Campus.

Her office also handles logistics for nearly 60 summer conference groups, from a music camp for preteens who play the euphonium to middle-aged Methodist ministers who are studying at Candler School of Theology.

Functioning as the welcome wagon, Wu's team arranges rooms, meeting space and catering, and makes sure the A/V equipment works.

They helped book 60 rooms in Few and Evans Halls for families attending Commencement this year, and will roll out the red carpet later in May for 2,400 athletes and other guests here for Special Olympics Georgia.

No box to check

"I am a product of a love that knew no boundaries. I am a part of the reality that confuses racism."

Growing up in the small town of Canton, Conn., Wu and her three sisters were the only biracial students at their school. The daughter of a Chinese father and a white mother, Wu was routinely asked if she was adopted. At age 6, her teacher requested that Wu dutifully pose next to a Japanese art display out of the misconception that "all Asians [even half ones] came from the same place." For the first two U.S. Census surveys, her mother had to choose whether her daughters were white or Chinese-American because there was no checkbox for biracial, Wu recalls.

"I am a perplexing mystery to the uninitiated, where my halves are majorities and my whole is a minority," Wu wrote recently as part of a portrait series by photographer Dawoud Bey commissioned by the Transforming Community Project to celebrate Emory's diversity. "I am a product of a love that knew no boundaries. I am a part of the reality that confuses racism."

While at Emory, Wu says she was exposed to a racially diverse community that shared stories and withheld judgment.

Hands off the hockey stick

Outside of work, Wu is a diehard Atlanta Thrashers fan, a season ticket holder and fan club board member.

Her interest in hockey began in kindergarten, when her friend's father, a goaltender for the then-Hartford Whalers, visited school one day to let the children take shots against him.

Wu and her sisters began playing street hockey in their driveway and begged their parents to take them to games. Wu has amassed at least 1,000 hockey playing cards, seven pucks, several jerseys and a stick from former Whalers captain Kevin Dineen that no one is allowed to touch.

"I respect the skill involved in hockey and the roughness of the game," says Wu, adding that she would never date a hockey player because "I love hockey so much I don't want anyone to ruin it for me."

Apart from hockey, Wu advises Emory's Alpha Phi Omega co-ed service fraternity, which she joined as an undergraduate.

She also walks two miles from her Decatur home to work and back each day, even in snow and sleet. Two years ago, she completed a 60-mile walk in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. A member of the "New Kids on the Walk" team, Wu individually raised $2,700, despite having no personal connection to breast cancer.

"I've never high-fived and shook hands with so many strangers in my life," she remembers. "It's always wonderful to do a random act of kindness."

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