This article is part of a series featuring some of this year’s outstanding graduating students, nominated by their academic school or college or another University program in which they participated. Check for additional profiles of students in the Class of 2013 on UConn Today from now through Commencement.
When it came time for identical twin brothers Spencer ’13 (SFA) and Tyler Reese ’13 (CLAS) to decide where they would attend college, they each discussed their choices individually with their parents.
“We actually both chose UConn separately,” says Spencer. “We felt strongly that we not play into each other’s decision when we were seniors in high school. It just happened that we both felt UConn had the most to offer us.”
The brothers followed their own way to different interests in Storrs – Spencer as a music major and Tyler as a mathematics major – each compiling outstanding records of academic achievement as members of the Honors Program, as well as with activities they pursued outside the classroom, with Spencer becoming a nationally ranked ballroom dancer and Tyler playing the trumpet in the UConn Marching, Jazz, and Pep Bands.
“The one thing that would be different if we did go to different schools is that I wouldn’t have Spencer’s teachers saying ‘Hi’ to me, because I rehearse in the music building a lot,” says Tyler. “They don’t always realize he has a twin brother. Many times I’ve had his teachers come up and have conversations with me not realizing I was not Spencer.”
The brothers say they wanted to have independent experiences at the University, so they did not live together as roommates. While they would plan time together, they rarely crossed paths by happenstance. However, says Spencer, “It was great to have someone here from the first minute, someone that you could see if you needed advice.”
They played soccer together as youngsters, with their paths diverging when choosing their musical interests, as Tyler studied the trumpet and Spencer played the piano and sang. They also had different inclinations in the visual arts, with Spencer preferring to paint and Tyler enjoying drawing.
“We could do things together, but we never had to outpace the other one,” says Tyler, noting that while both were good in math, it was his brother, the future music major, who won a middle school mathematics award over the future math major.
After starting his studies in biology, Tyler moved to mathematics, pursuing his bachelor’s degree in mathematical sciences, a field in which he can pursue a doctoral degree that will allow him to work in business. His University Scholar project combines math and music – using fractal string representations of pitch and rhythmic information to mathematically compare musical pieces.
Tyler says that as a member of the UConn Marching Band, he enjoyed the change in focus from his high school experience: his high school band played largely for the judges in competitions, whereas the Marching Band performed before tens of thousands attending a Huskies football game.
“When you go to Rentschler Field, there are 40,000 people all around you,” he says. “The focus is no longer on the judge at the 50-yard line. You have to entertain 360 degrees, which makes it a lot more fun.”
As a member of the Pep Band supporting the women’s basketball team, he also had the chance to go to the Final Four in Indianapolis and to play in New Orleans and be a part of the team’s eighth NCAA Championship. With several other members of the brass section, Tyler was a part of the Funky Dawgz group that performed for the University’s 2012 holiday card video.
“I can’t believe the things he’s accomplished in his time here,” Spencer says of his brother. “The research he’s done for the University Scholar’s project is so cool to me. It’s so intriguing and on the cutting edge of where his field is going. It’s not quite what we study in music classes.”
Spencer’s honors project was completed last December, when his original opera was performed as part of the Husky Headliners series at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts. “Always Hope” is a work of historical fiction about the Holocaust that highlights themes of perseverance and bravery within the setting of a love story. He wrote and directed the opera and designed all of the period costumes and the set.
Spencer also joined the campus ballroom dancing team as a freshman, and last year with his partner took third place in the USA National Championships. He serves as president of the group this year and is again heading toward national competition.
“Sometimes I don’t even believe that Spencer is my brother,” says Tyler. “He’s doing things so beyond the realm of my wildest imagination. After closing night of his opera, I went over to him and said, ‘How am I supposed to write a thesis after this?’ He worked on it for two years; he made the costumes, made the sets, wrote the music. I do math homework.”
Next fall, the brothers will move on in new directions on different campuses. Tyler will begin a doctoral program in applied and interdisciplinary mathematics at the University of Michigan. Spencer will head to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. to begin a master’s program in opera stage directing, before eventually pursuing a doctoral degree.