A&S Class of '24: Meixin Yu Finds a Home in Theater and Cognitive Science

Meixin Wei UVA A&S class of 2024

Meixin Yu faced some cultural adjustments when she arrived on Grounds in 2021, but the Beijing native found her niche combining a unique combination of undergraduate majors.

She knew she wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the College of Arts & Sciences’ interdisciplinary Cognitive Science Program, but in high school she also had been an active leader of a student-run Chinese theater group for which she was the leading actress while also serving as president of a student street dance group. Not surprisingly, she soon gravitated on Grounds to the Department of Drama, where she found her UVA home.

Known to her friends as Mei (pronounced “May”), Yu is graduating this spring as a double major in cognitive science and drama, with a minor in dance. After devoting much of her energy to performing in and contributing to a number of Department of Drama productions as a digital media designer, she is beginning her MFA studies this fall at Carnegie Mellon University, in the School of Drama’s Graduate Video and Media Design program.

“I didn’t come to UVA with a clear-cut path in mind, but I knew I wanted to learn something interdisciplinary. “I chose cognitive science because it combines my interests in psychology, computer science and neuroscience. Studying those topics really transformed my mindset by enhancing my self-awareness. … I started taking a couple drama classes alongside my major just for fun, and I discovered this really nourishing environment within the Drama department, with small class sizes and extra caring professors who allowed me to acknowledge and accept my vulnerabilities and express my voice.”

A versatile performer and producer, Yu has embraced opportunities to lead projection design efforts with a variety of theater productions on Grounds. Shortly after arriving at UVA, Yu began working with the student-run LingXi Chinese Theatre. For three years, she worked to sustain the organization over the pandemic, rotating through multiple leadership positions. As technical director of UVA’s student-run Spectrum Theatre, Yu coordinated the lighting, sounds and other technical aspects to stage a full-length musical, “Fun Home.” Her experience in theater and dance — along with her linguistic studies in cognitive science — informed her creative work as an innovative designer of digital animated components of Department of Drama productions.

“I feel like studying cognitive science taught me how to think about myself in relation to others, to not only view everything through my individual prism. It has helped me understand myself well enough to monitor and process my feelings and thoughts in a very compassionate and respectful way, which then helps me interact logically and empathetically with others.

“When you’re creating a drama project, it takes a lot of communication. There are artistic contents but also logistical topics where cognitive science has helped me switch my mind into different modes when I need to pay attention to separate details. So, I not only know how to apply my craft individually, but I can also work with the team and create a workflow that will ensure success for our project.”

One of Yu’s most ambitious theater projects involved donning a motion-capture suit last year to choreograph a two-minute dance scene featuring digital, dancing skeletons for the 2023 Department of Drama production of “Everybody.”

“I was very fortunate that I got to do something as creative and innovative as that as a student designer,” Yu said. “I’m really excited to study video media design at Carnegie Mellon. It’s a dynamic, new unknown area of theater production, and I feel like there are some opportunities to make some history there.”