Campus Life student spotlight

Devoted to Disney

Meet Therese, a freshman with many creative outlets

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Therese Mills '21 is a sabre fencer for MIT's varsity fencing team.
Charles Lazaro

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Name & Class: Therese Mills, Class of 2021

Areas of Study: Declaring 18-C (Mathematics with Computer Science); possible minor in Comparative Media Studies (CMS)

Living group: Baker

Hometown: From New Jersey, to Manhattan, and now Orlando



What is the reasoning behind your choice of studies?

I’ve always loved math. I remember being in my second grade math class and thinking, “This is it. I want to do this forever.” However, I wanted a more creative side to my studies as well. Initially I wanted to be an applied math major, but then I found out it included writing a lot of math papers and doing research. I think the computer science component of 18-C as well as possibly CMS classes allows me to express my creativity and opens more doors into industry. Over IAP I worked with the Media Lab on a workshop envisioning the New England Aquarium, and I really liked the design aspect of that.


Why did you join Pi Phi?

Coming from an all-girls Catholic high school, I’m used to being in a strong female community, and still wanted an aspect of that in my life here. I actually wasn’t sure about joining a sorority, but my brother, who is in a fraternity at UPenn encouraged me to do it. I chose Pi Phi because I identified with their mission, since Pi Phi’s philanthropy is focused on education. In my high school, we would have projects focused on spreading education, such as fundraising to build schools in impoverished areas — our last project was in Zambia. With Pi Phi, on Mondays and Thursdays, I go to a grade school in Boston and work with kids in kindergarten and first grade. We try to combine learning with having fun, and this semester we’re focusing on “construction” via lego and marshmallow bridges. I’ll be moving into Pi Phi next year.


How was your experience on the fencing team this year?

I loved it — I’ve only fenced on my own, at a club, since my high school didn’t have a team, but here I really love having a community. Our season just ended, but we got to fence a lot of good schools, like Harvard and Columbia. This year our furthest tournament was a two-hour drive, but once every four years, the team flies out to Duke.

I love the feeling I get when I fence (I do sabre) — it’s calming in a way, but it definitely takes a lot more strategy and thinking than most people perceive. It’s been called physical chess because you always have to be aware of every move made.


What else do you like to do in your free time?

This might sound a bit weird, but another major part of my life is Disney — listening to Disney music and watching the movies. I really love that we moved to Orlando when my mom got a job at Disney! I have an annual pass for Walt Disney World, so when I go back home, I can go whenever I want. It’s my relaxing thing — Disney inspires me with their creativity and technology. I really enjoyed talking to a Disney animator that visited MIT about his work. Animation is definitely another creative field I’m considering!


How was settling into MIT as a freshman? Any surprises?

I was really surprised at the collaborative culture of MIT, considering how insanely competitive it was to get in. Everyone is really supportive of everyone else — I love it!  Doing the math FPOP in the beginning of the year was great because I found other people who were super into math too, and I’ve made a lot of friends at Baker and from fencing. The thing I found the hardest this year was finding the balance between the amount of things you should be doing, and the sheer amount of things you could be doing!

Also, I really like Boston. I love cities so much — I went to high school in Philadelphia, and  everything I’ve done has been in a major city. To me, Boston is a really good combination of Philly and New York, since New York is very urban and modern, while I thought Philly was very old and historical, focused on preserving everything that came before.


Would you rather be a tree or have to live in a tree?

Live in a tree...I don’t know why that was such an immediate answer! It might be due to the fact that my UA committee is focusing on social space projects across campus right now, so any ideas about turning cool places into living spaces inspire me.


Would you rather have to go to the bathroom in a giant litter box in your house, or anywhere you want, but outside?

In a litter box, because I don’t want to go outside.


What one thing would you want to have with you on a desert island?

I just got a lightsaber that’s really cool...


What one value do you prize above all others?

Family, for sure.