University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Student Focus

Kaihan Wu at the front desk of Marsh dorm.
Photograph by Sally McCay


Student Focus

Running for head of student government requires a certain degree of old school political campaigning. That means posters liberally stapled up around campus. Last year, it was hard to miss “Vote for Niko Wu” — a photo of the candidate gazing and pointing into the camera, eyebrow arched with a hint of mischief, Chinese international student as Uncle Sam, “I Want You.”  

Though he pledged to restore the reading day during exam week and build internship and student club opportunities, his run for office fell short. 

No worries, Wu says a semester later, his run was mostly about the experience. Working as a student senator with former president Jason Maulucci ’17 gave him a taste for how student government leaders can create change for students on campus. Thinking he wanted to step up and make his own mark, Wu talked with his friends, his parents, and his professors. 

“Based on encouragement and support, I decided that I just want to try,” he says about last year’s election. “Because no matter what the result will be, I will definitely do something that I have never done before.”

Something that I have never done before is a familiar theme for Wu. It’s what brought him to UVM, where he studies with approximately 400 fellow undergrads from China. Drawing on advice from his father, he was interested in gaining an education from an American university that would develop his critical thinking and broaden his world view. It’s what motivates research projects he’s undertaken in his sociology major, working with professors Dale Jaffe and Thomas Macias. Wu is exploring how international students develop across their undergraduate years and also looking into how individ-uals leverage social networks in running an organization or event. 

Wu balances his academics with work as a resident advisor in Marsh-Austin-Tupper residential complex, where many of UVM’s international students live. Though his presidential ambitions didn’t pan out, Wu remains active working to improve the experience of his fellow students. He leads an effort to create an international club in the Grossman School of Business, where he studies for his minor. He says, “For international students, we want to give them an opportunity to understand more about business opportunities in the United States. For domestic students, it is trying to give them more ideas to understand global business. And we want to build our own social networks for business.”

While many international students return home for the summer, Wu stayed in Burlington after his first year of school, working as a custodian for UVM Physical Plant, motivated by gaining the experience of a blue-collar job and earning money to help pay his tuition. “Also, successfully, I buy a gift for my mom and use my own wage,” he adds. 

“Niko is exuberant, unfiltered, full of life, and quite lovable,” says Thomas Dunn ’87, one of his teachers in the Global Gateway Program. “He’s really jumped into the UVM experience and taken full advantage of the opportunities here.” 

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