The photo is of Sylvia Wu, a philosophy and math major, discussing the Clemson Ethics Bowl team.

Sylvia Wu, a philosophy and math major, talked about the Clemson Ethics Bowl team during Fusion, a celebration this past March of work by students in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. Image Credit: Kristin Clardy

Sylvia Wu is a purpose-driven multitasker, the sort of Clemson student who doesn’t just excel in one area when she can succeed in five endeavors.

Wu, 20, majors in both math and philosophy while minoring in psychology and working as a tutor in the Clemson Writing Center.

She’s one of the few students across campus to be named a Clemson National Scholar, with a full scholarship to the Calhoun Honors College. In addition, Wu debates contemporary issues as a member of Clemson’s highly ranked Ethics Bowl team.

Wu also volunteers as a tutor for the children of a refugee family in Greenville.

“Over the past year, I’ve gotten to watch the kids grow into their new home, which has been incredible,” Wu said. “Working with refugees is something I enjoy, and I think it’s very worthwhile.”

Wu, a junior, already is taking graduate courses in math. She maintains a very high grade-point average.

“I think my resume makes me look like I’m driven, but I try to keep it tethered to what I’m interested in,” she said. “I do everything with a purpose.”

As a student in the philosophy department’s Law, Liberty and Justice program, Wu is considering law school after Clemson and a career as an attorney. She’s particularly interested in social justice and immigration law.

She’s active in Clemson UNICEF, which advocates on behalf of children, and she’s planning a refugee-awareness event on campus.

Recently, Wu and other students in a Creative Inquiry team drove to Lumpkin, Georgia, to interview immigrants at the Stewart Detention Center, which houses immigrant detainees. Back at Clemson, the students held a public symposium to discuss what they learned at the center.

“I think immigration law is very important, especially because my parents are immigrants,” Wu said. “I have that personal connection, and there’s a great need for more attorneys willing to be involved in immigration law.”

Debating ethics

Wu is part of the Ethics Bowl team that bested hundreds of other university teams to tie for third place at the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl in March. The team also won high honors in the regional competition in November.

Wu specializes in objections, or counterarguments. Judges pose ethical questions to the five-member team, and Wu anticipates potential objections – in order to refute them.

“I deal with objections because I’m very argumentative,” Wu said, with a laugh.

Clemson has long fielded top-ranked Ethics Bowl teams, with Clemson groups being named semifinalists in 2006, 2007 and 2019, placing second in 2009 and 2012, and winning the national championship in 2008.

For Wu, the Ethics Bowl team offers an opportunity to put philosophical theory into practice.

“It focuses on very contemporary issues,” Wu said. “We have cases about biotech, gene editing, the plight of older women in Hollywood, outing white supremacists,” she said. “These are real-world topics I’m passionate about, and we get to talk to other people about them in a very respectful, logical way.”

The Ethics Bowl, with its debate-style format, is also great training for a lawyer, Wu said.

“I think it will help me in the future because you’re required to go beyond a classic pro/con approach to arguments and really apply a strong ethical framework to issues,” she said.

‘An eye-opening experience’

Born in nearby Seneca, Wu grew up in a suburb of Detroit and spent her high school years in Shanghai, China, where her parents, naturalized American citizens, had relocated for work. She’s fluent in Chinese.

“Living in a foreign country fundamentally changed the way I look at the world,” Wu said. “I think it gave me a more objective perspective on this country. Learning to converse with people who grew up differently from me and thought about different things from me was an eye-opening experience.”

Wu said she was attracted to the study of philosophy at Clemson by the opportunity it offered to engage in a “logical reflection on the world.”

Her interests in math and philosophy converge in her work as a Writing Center tutor. Verbal precision is key for Wu.

“I’m passionate about language, about finding the right word to provoke the right response,” she said. “The right word can really hit home. I enjoy trying to find that word with students I’m tutoring. I think that’s why I like philosophy and math – the beauty of logic.”