Illustrated portrait of Taia Wu
Illustration: John Jay Cabuay

Opening doors

In 2018, far from her Washington state home, Wu was a second-year grad student searching for ways to connect with San Francisco when she found A Home Away from Homelessness and began tutoring teenagers struggling with schoolwork. Realizing that the experience helped her as much as the teens, Wu successfully encouraged her UCSF peers to get involved. “I saw that a synergy could exist between UCSF and these kids, where grad students could open doors to research for local students who might not get these opportunities otherwise.”

A calming presence

Mentoring taught Wu a lesson she didn’t see coming. As she tutored, she saw how stress affected students’ ability to learn and recalled how stress had stood in her way. “Math or science is rarely the hard part, it’s the emotional context, the ability to tune out the message that you aren’t smart enough. As a tutor, I can provide an emotional container where people can become calm enough to think straight.”

Changing what is possible

“I love mentoring because science is boundless, and these students are not only experiencing it for the first time but also realizing they can build their futures in it. Scientific discoveries change what is possible for society, and we all have the right to find our place in that transformation.” 


Earlier this year, Wu helped a student she had mentored since she was 15 move into her dorm at UC Merced, becoming the first in her family to attend college. Watching students overcome so many obstacles to pursue their dreams reminds Wu of her own path. “I found my place in science because mentors told me [that] exactly who I am is exactly who we need.”

– Katherine Conrad for UCSF Magazine

Read the Winter 2024 Issue