The 2023 Wiesner Student Art Awards

Get to Know Kidist Adamu, Cici Mao, Tristan Shin, and Tianyuan (Margaret) Zheng

Each year, the Laya and Jerome B. Wiesner Student Art Award is presented to four honorees—either students or MIT groups—for exceptional artistic contributions to the Institute community. This year’s winners are community builders and mentors, committed to making space for joy, empowerment, and the voices of their fellow students. From music to visual arts to community organizing, these individuals have made a lasting mark on the artistic life of MIT.

Wiesner Award winner Kidist Adamu. Courtesy of the artist.

Fashioning Space for Voices and Connection

Kidist Adamu ’23 was described by a peer as “a multi-hyphenate artist whose impact and contributions at MIT will be felt for years to come.” 

When Covid-19 hit, Adamu turned her creative endeavors into a lifeline back to her MIT community. Leaning into photography and turning her bedroom at home into a de facto studio, she embarked on one of many impactful artistic endeavors: photographing and editing for MIT’s fashion magazine Infinite.

As a member of the board, she spearheaded Infinite’s first lecture series, which concluded with a talk from the founder of Boston Fashion Week. “I’m very fortunate to have found a diverse group of voices to give lectures to the MIT community,” says Adamu. “I hope it can continue in the future.”

The Wiesner winner has left her mark on campus both in visual art—such as a much-admired painting at the new MIT admissions building celebrating Black students at the Institute—and in community organizing as a member of the MIT Creative Arts Council, an Admissions blogger, and part of Black Women’s Alliance (BWA). Adamu hosted community workshops through BWA, from jewelry-making to screenprinting, nurturing what she calls her unspoken desire for community through art.

In the same spirit, Adamu continued a legacy of activism by helping to formalize Juniper, a new living group for Black women and nonbinary students, a space to celebrate the beauty and talents of Black women and nonbinary people at MIT and beyond.

Now a graduating senior majoring in Computer Science and Writing, Adamu hopes to continue bringing together her STEM pursuits with her fascination for visual art, fashion, and storytelling.

Wiesner Award winner Cici Mao. Courtesy of the artist.

Fostering Life on Stage

When Cici Mao, now a graduate student, arrived on MIT’s campus as a first-year, they knew that they wanted to engage with the Institute’s theater programs. They didn’t know at that point that they would play a pivotal role in reinvigorating and sustaining MIT’s student theater community. 

They learned the basics of lighting under the mentorship of Meredith Sibley, Manager of Technical Operations for the Campus Activities Complex. Soon after they connected with E33, MIT’s student lighting group that works on shows from student dance performances to Music and Theater Arts productions.

Mao invested themself deeply in E33 and in ensuring its enduring success. As president of the group, they organized the purchase of more modern lighting equipment for members to better support the MIT performing arts community, and provide more opportunities for students to learn the art of lighting design. Mao also emphasized the artistic, design-focused aspects of lighting in conjunction with hardware expertise.

In addition to preserving and empowering MIT’s student theater groups, Mao also helped expand them. Along with Montse Garza ’22 (a 2022 Wiesner Award winner) and other collaborators, Mao helped launch Life On Stage Theater, a student theater group focused on contemporary stage plays.

Mao is currently working toward the conclusion of their five-year combined undergraduate and master’s program in Aeronautics & Astronautics. After graduation, they will join Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and continue their work as a systems engineer on the Mars lander—and their work in theater.

Through dozens of shows and hundreds of hours of work, one recommendation letter declared, “Cici has completely transformed the technical theater art community at MIT” and “pushed its limits beyond where it’s ever been before.”

Wiesner Award winner Tristan Shin. Courtesy of the artist.

Expanding Musical Opportunities

Tristan Shin ’23 can’t remember when he first came to music and to math, but he knows with certainty they’re both something he’s always been deeply passionate about. When he arrived at MIT and realized he could delve into both passions as a double major, he was thrilled. As a graduating senior looking back, he knows he made the right choice.

As a dedicated trumpet player for the MIT Symphony Orchestra, Shin relaunched the IAP Orchestra, a student-led initiative that returned during the Independent Activities Period 2023 with support from MIT’s music administration.

“Even in an institution overflowing with students of intellectual and artistic prowess,” writes Adam Kerry Boyles, MITSO conductor, “Tristan has consistently managed to stand out among his peers as an advanced student, promising conductor, excellent instrumentalist, [and] a gifted composer.”

“What draws me to music is being able to make an impact on the people who listen,” says Shin, whether that means the audience as he performs with the MIT Symphony Orchestra, the musicians who bring his own compositions to life, or communicating the energy of a piece through conducting. His favorite aspect of musical performance, both as a conductor and ensemble member, is spending rehearsal with other musicians to better understand the music and each other. Shin’s music has reached far beyond MIT’s campus: last summer, he composed a piece on commission for San Diego New Music, where it was performed at the Emerging Composers Concert in July.

Wiesner Award winner Tianyuan (Margaret) Zheng with Wide Tim. Courtesy of the artist.

Widening the Horizon for Positivity 

Tianyuan (Margaret) Zheng ’23 fell in love with MIT when her parents first brought her to visit at age ten. In her time as an undergraduate, she has embarked on a multifaceted journey exploring a diverse range of passions old and new. Now a senior double-majoring in Math and CS/Economics and minoring in music, Zheng also finds time to be an active and generative figure in the student art community.

Zheng is best known for bringing to life Wide Tim, a delightfully illustrated incarnation of MIT’s mascot Tim the Beaver. Originating from a cartoon image welcoming the Class of 2024 to campus, Wide Tim has become a widely recognized and beloved character who went on to collaborate with MIT Admissions, MIT Technology Review, and several other MIT departments. Through Zheng’s art, Wide Tim now represents student art and cultural organizations via his own Instagram account, @wide_tim

“My vision for Wide Tim is that he’s a very happy, very positive character,” says Zheng. “He enjoys the vast opportunity that MIT provides us and the many different kinds of community that bring joy to people in their own different ways.”

Zheng’s leadership contributions to campus arts groups are extensive and varied—from organizing a student mural initiative in MIT’s Welcome Center as Borderline’s co-president, to leading the music and spirit scene at McCormick Hall, to working as an artist on Ring Committee 2023. She also was a co-leader of the First-Year Arts Program in 2021 and 2022, where she herself was a participant in 2019.

“To me, art feels like a tool to create happiness and spread it,” she reflects. “I am grateful that my art can be a force to unite people.”

The Council for the Arts at MIT presents several awards annually to MIT students who have demonstrated excellence in the arts. Established by the Council for the Arts at MIT in 1979, the Wiesner Award honors past MIT President Jerome B. Wiesner and Laya Wiesner for their commitment to the arts at MIT.

Written by Alison Lanier
Editorial direction by Leah Talatinian

Posted on May 8, 2023 by Tim Lemp