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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: The Champion Piano Player Who Wants You to Notice Even the Smallest of Victories

We canvassed the world of the social and behavioral sciences, looking for rising stars whose careers promise to make a lasting mark. We'll be profiling the top 30 throughout the month of April.


(Illustration: Graham Smith)

(Illustration: Graham Smith)

Theodora Mautz, a senior in high school, has done something few people have: She got a perfect score on the SAT and the ACT. But to her, that was a passing moment of glory.

Even though she’s a competitive piano player, an elite-level singer, and the executive director of a non-profit that helps immigrants become American citizens, she says, “I am most proud of my small victories in life. I have been proudest when I have a nice interaction from an attractive boy, for example.”

A life highlight happened at the end of her freshman year when she finally launched herself five feet, the minimum pole-vaulting height, after having failed to clear the bar at every prior meet. “Noticing those small victories is inherent to my happiness,” she says.

Mautz’s extreme humility made her ask repeatedly whether Pacific Standard was sure it wanted to include her in this “30 Under 30” feature. If her flawless test scores were the only thing to talk about, we probably wouldn’t. But her work as the leader of Mission: Citizen kept our attention. It’s a student-run organization that reaches out to immigrants and gives them free classes to turn them into American citizens.

"I have no idea what I wish to do with my life because I enjoy learning many things. I certainly hope that I will have made an impact somehow. But I think ‘impact’ can take many forms, whether through discovering a new galaxy, advocating for a policy, or inspiring even one person."

Mautz isn’t the founder of the organization—she wants us to be very clear about that—but under her, two vice presidents’, and the legacy of all other members’ leadership, Mission: Citizen started offering students who attend all eight classes and pass the mock citizenship exam a partial scholarship to offset the $680 naturalization fee.

“I love our students, who never look down on us as children and have an intellectual curiosity not often found in high school students,” Mautz says. “And I love teaching information and retelling historical anecdotes.”

Mission: Citizen is comprised of high schoolers who graduated from the Constitution Team, a rigorous program in which students study civics and compete against other schools in mock hearings.

“I wanted to participate in Mission: Citizen” Mautz says, “because I loved Con Team and discussing matters of political and international importance, and I wanted to apply that knowledge to the community. Additionally, I am a firm believer that when you experience good fortune, you should spread it around.”

Mautz was born in Santa Monica, California, then lived in New Jersey until she was seven, then moved to Portland, Oregon. She went to ACCESS Academy, a public middle school for the highly gifted, then Lincoln High School.

“Phenomenal teachers and extracurricular opportunities have been instrumental in my development,” she says. “Additionally, my parents have had such a large impact in my life. They’ve taught me to always challenge myself.”

Her mother, Hong, is from Beijing, and her father, Charles, is from Pendleton, Oregon. Both of them, plus an aunt named Anna, worked closely with Mautz as she was growing up. “These three adults have loved, supported, encouraged, and taught me,” she says. “Thanks to them, I have learned to always strive for more, to try to be a genuinely good person, and to enjoy lovely moments.”

They also paid for a first-rate SAT tutor. The first time she took that test, she got a 2190. The second time, she felt physically sick and intimidated by some of the questions, so she was shocked when her score came in perfect: 2400. As for the ACT, she hadn’t formally prepared but felt good while taking it. "That test intrinsically made sense to me," she told an Oregonian reporter.

Obviously, all kinds of doors are open to her now, but, she says, “I have no idea what I wish to do with my life because I enjoy learning many things. I certainly hope that I will have made an impact somehow. But I think ‘impact’ can take many forms, whether through discovering a new galaxy, advocating for a policy, or inspiring even one person.”

In her free time, she’s an award-winning concert pianist (“The most powerful emotions I experience are when I hear or play Chopin’s music.”), sings second soprano in the Pacific Youth Choir, conducts original astronomy research, travels to China to visit her grandparents (she’s fluent in Mandarin), reads Agatha Christie novels, and watches old movies.

“I also love writing in a journal,” Mautz says, “because that allows me to reflect on the little moments in my day. I hope that when I'm older I'll look back on these moments and be able to reminisce. I'm a very sentimental person.”

We’ll be publishing profiles of this year’s list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 throughout the month of April. Visit this page every day to read about another young person who is making an impact on the social, political, and economic issues we make it our mission to cover every day at Pacific Standard.

A version of this year’s list is also available to subscribers as a feature in our May/June print issue. For more from Pacific Standard on the science of society, and to support our work, sign up for our email newsletter and subscribe to our bimonthly magazine. Digital editions are available in the App Store (iPad) and on Zinio (Android, iPad, PC/MAC, iPhone, and Win8), Amazon, and Google Play (Android).