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Mimi Tran Zambetti is an artist, designer, co-founder of Project Wren, and soon-to-be IYA graduate! With commencement on the horizon, Mimi's future plans are simple: build meaningful things with people she cares about.
Tell me a little bit about your journey to the Academy?
In high school, I spent all of my time working on robotics projects or painting. I loved making and wasn't a fan of learning theory from a textbook. Even though I liked academia, I didn't think a traditional degree would be a good fit for me in college. I loved how relaxed USC felt compared to Bay Area schools and the fact that the Academy offered one of the only makerspaces on campus.
How have you evolved over the years? Any unexpected twists or turns in your journey?
When I first got to the Academy I wanted to build hardware, but at the time there weren't many entry level, hands-on industrial design classes. I switched over to building software, even though neither code nor digital design came naturally to me. It never occurred to me that I would become a startup founder. I actually disliked the kitsch idea of startups. I thought: "Gee, do college kids really work out of a garage on some crazy idea? Who would want to do that?" It turns out I was that person. By sophomore year I was working out of a garage in Berkeley with Ben Stanfield and Landon Brand, building enterprise software. I had just followed what I liked doing. That was when I gave up on planning anything and became much more open-minded about what my career could look like.
What are some of your goals post-graduation?
I don't have any goals tied to post-graduation. I used to set goals, sprint to get there, only to reach them and realize that I was only getting started or that it wasn't important. Now I mostly just try to have fun with what I’m doing now. That means reading a lot and building things that are meaningful with people who are smarter than me. Hopefully, I can continue to do that indefinitely or until I get bored and decide on something else.
Describe a passion project you're currently working on or interested in?
Currently, I'm working on a company called Project Wren with Ben Stanfield and Landon Brand. With Wren, you can go beyond reuse, reduce, recycle. Here's how it works: you calculate your carbon footprint, support a proven project to offset your emissions, and receive updates every month on how the project is going. What inspired the project? At first, we felt a lot of dread around climate change. We thought we couldn't do anything to help because we were kids in school and knew nothing about the science or policy of climate change. Then one day, we stumbled upon a website that literally listed 100 solutions that, if enacted, would reverse climate change. We realized experts had already figured out how to stop climate change, and all we had to do was find people to help make these solutions happen. That's why we started Wren—to connect individuals who care to implement solutions that are already possible. You can read more about our story on The Pulse!
Is there a leader or mentor who inspires you?
There are plenty of women who inspire me like Serena Williams, Ellen Pao, and Frida Kahlo. There are also older students at USC who helped me like Aneesha Gupta ('17), Jenny Zhang ('19), Ben Stanfield ('19), Landon Brand ('19), and Irfan Faizullabhoy ('18). Jenny and Ben taught me everything I know about design, and Landon everything I know about engineering (except for HTML/CSS, thank you Professor Dent). Irfan is one of my best friends today, and back when I was a freshman he was my mentor in Spark SC, a student org on campus. Irfan helped me work through problems, traded book recommendations, constantly cheered me on, and invited me to hang out with his friends. The latter was how I got to know Ben and Landon, so I have a lot to thank him for.
What advice would you give to a freshman?
Don't be afraid to say yes to big opportunities but more importantly don't be afraid to say no when you have too much on your plate. Don't be afraid to be in a room with people who know more than you. I still grapple with imposter syndrome and anxiety, but at the end of the day, I know that I am not just my thoughts and feelings. Even though I constantly impose limits on myself mentally, I know I can do just as much as everyone in that room, and you can too! If you are a young woman or an underrepresented minority who likes doing high impact work on small teams, I especially encourage you to consider starting your own company.
Ping me at email@example.com if you want to chat, talk about your ideas, or anything.
Describe one thing most people don't know about you?
During my freshman year, I had a crippling eating disorder. It made me a really awful person. I would lash out at my family and friends, lose hair and sleep, and spend a lot of time hating myself. I took the summer to go through treatment. I learned a lot about happiness and fulfillment from my therapist and met some really determined people in group therapy. I won't spend too much time on this but if you know or think you are working through an eating disorder, feel free to reach out and chat. I'm happy to listen to how you're feeling and if you'd like, I can help you get set up with professional support.
Also, another little known fact about me is that golden moles are my favorite animals.
What the one thing your parents taught you that you'd like to share?
My dad makes awful but hilarious dad jokes and my mom is a relentless optimist. Together, they've taught me to not take anything too seriously (other than my bills).
What are the essential things you always keep in your backpack?
• A pack of gum - I probably have three half-empty ones because they're buried beneath layers and layers of miscellaneous papers and wrappers. I am not organized.
• My Kindle - The best hundred dollars I've ever spent.
• A notebook - I've been sporting POKETO's Artwork in Progress notebook, ever since Ari Sokolov ('23) got me one for Christmas last year. I'm on my second one now.
• Something to write with - Usually this means 10 pens and markers only one of which will reliably work. I don't like taking notes on a computer.
Favorite app or website?
Twitter. It's a great place to follow experts and laugh at cat memes.
Favorite class at USC and why?
I really liked my GE Modern European History class with Professor Aro Velmet. Even though it was the first class he ever taught, he was a brilliant and engaging lecturer. I loved learning about history from him and understanding how nations and new ideologies form. My favorite essay from that class is The End of History by Francis Fukuyama. My favorite figure to learn about was Olympes de Gouges. Also, shout out to Jason Ellenburg for being the coolest and most supportive teacher ever during Typography A.
Favorite way to de-stress?
Read a book, meditate, go on a walk, do some yoga, go boxing.
Pose FX. Not even guilty.