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Spreading joy with Wide Tim

MIT senior Tianyuan (Margaret) Zheng uses art as a bonding enzyme to join STEM, culture, and community.
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Photo of Margaret Zheng wearing an MIT sweatshirt with images of Wide Tim on the wall behind her
Margaret Zheng, the creator of Wide Tim
Photo: Lia Bu

He has his own Instagram account. He stars as the featured profile picture on MIT Admission’s Facebook page. When MIT’s Campus Preview Weekend 2022 came around, he joyfully opened his arms widely to welcome the admitted Class of 2026 at a campus photo booth. You can find him everywhere on campus, from murals and posters in the MIT Welcome Center to laptop stickers, pins, and keychains on a student’s backpack.

No, this isn’t MIT’s iconic mascot, Tim the Beaver. This is Wide Tim, an adorable beaver character who loves MIT, obtaining width, and injecting some levity into MIT life. Rumor has it that Wide Tim double-majors in eating and sleeping, but his sole mission is to make people happy and smile. And by all accounts, he excels at his job.

Wide Tim is the brainchild of senior Tianyuan (Margaret) Zheng, a double major in Course 18 (Mathematics) and 6-14 (Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science), with a minor in music. Growing up in Qingdao, China, and later Mobile, Alabama, her love of the arts has always been as strong as her love of mathematics.

Zheng aspired to attend MIT ever since her first campus visit at age 10. “I remember seeing professors, students, and thousands of posters for all kinds of activities on the Infinite Corridor — I was mesmerized. I thought, ‘there are so many things to do here!’” says Zheng.

In addition to furthering her studies in mathematics, economics, and computer science, she naturally gravitates toward creative outlets to combine her technical interests with artistic endeavors. She is the co-founder of a comedic Instagram account with Gloria Lin ’22 and juniors Audrey Cui and Penny Brant, which explains complex STEM concepts with art, humor, and love.

Wide Tim was born as a spinoff from that page during the week of Valentine’s Day on an @mitadmissions guest post. As MIT Admissions began to adopt more drawings of Wide Tim in collaboration with Zheng, his popularity grew rapidly among MIT students.

“Wide Tim has become a kind of unofficial representation of our mascot with all of his stats maximized: friendliness, cuteness, potential hug-ability,” says Chris Peterson, director of special projects for MIT Admissions and Student Financial Services. “What began as a small piece of digital fan art posted to the Admissions’ Instagram account to welcome the 2024s to campus for their first in-person semester has expanded, both literally and figuratively, to encompass the entire community, as infinite as the eponymous corridor itself.”

Peterson, who has worked with Zheng to create more materials featuring Wide Tim, isn’t surprised that the rotund beaver has been such a big hit with current and prospective students. “It’s simple physics: attraction is directly proportional to mass, so as Wide Tim becomes larger and larger, people love him more and more.”

As the character gained momentum, Zheng created an Instagram account for Wide Tim to promote art and creativity on campus. She partners with many student-run art and cultural organizations that depict Wide Tim participating in numerous campus events, free of charge. “I wanted more people to know that MIT not only excels in STEM, but also encompasses such a rich collection of artistic talents, quirkiness, and culture — and on top of this, MIT students know how to have fun.”

Wide Tim is not Zheng’s first experience in MIT art organizations or beaver drawing. She has been an executive board member of The Borderline, an art club that created MIT’s 200-foot-long, augmented-reality mural tunnel, as well as an artist on Ring Committee 2023, a 12-student committee selected by each class to design a unique MIT ring for their fellow classmates.

In her free time, she loves to improvise on the piano, sometimes during jam sessions organized by McCormick Hall, where she also serves as a co-president. “I have to admit that I’ve over-committed every semester,” she says, “but I love my communities at MIT so much, that I constantly want to do something to make them even happier places to be.”

With some extra help from Wide Tim.

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