Student Profile

Senior profile: Brián Martín Magdaleno

Combining math, music and diversity in STEM

Photo of Brián Martín Magdaleno, A.B. '23

Brián Martín Magdaleno, A.B. '23 in applied mathematics (Eliza Grinnell/SEAS)

Brián Martín Magdaleno saw a lack of diversity among the applied mathematics concentrators at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and wanted to change it. Students identifying as Hispanic or Latinx make up only a small percentage of the applied math student body, spurring Magdaleno even more towards a field which he already found quite fascinating.

“The breadth of applied mathematics was very much one of the main things that attracted me,” Magdaleno said. “The applied math area really connected the professors and students. My applied math professors have been very engaging, and I’ve had a really good time.”

Magdaleno, A.B. ’23 was already sharing his Mexican heritage through Mariachi Veritas de Harvard, Harvard’s student mariachi, when he declared in applied math with a secondary in music. As a senior at SEAS, he found another way to increase his community’s presence on campus by serving as a Fellow for the SEAS Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB).

“The applied math area, and SEAS as a whole, has a lot of resources that are sometimes not that well known by people outside of SEAS or come from different backgrounds,” Magdaleno said. “For that reason, it’s very important to share and make a lot of these opportunities known so people from all backgrounds can participate.”

That wealth of resources is what drew Magdaleno to Harvard from his community in Los Angeles. He originally planned to study chemistry or chemical engineering but switched after taking “AM50: Introduction to Applied Mathematics” as a first-year student. That course brought him into the field, but another course connected all his academic interests: “AM108: Nonlinear Dynamical Systems,” taught by Sarah Iams, Lecturer and Staff Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies in Applied Mathematics.

“Our final project was to critique or build on an already existing academic paper,” he said. “The paper my group picked was about quantifying an expression in musical performances. It was very much a paper that bridged two of my interests, music and math, that I didn’t realize existed.”

Iams and concentration advisor David Parkes, George F. Colony Professor of Computer Science, also introduced Magdaleno to Robert Wood, who became Magdaleno’s thesis advisor. Wood, Harry Lewis and Marlyn McGrath Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, teaches a course on the physics and engineering principles of music, and worked with Magdaleno to come up with a senior thesis project of designing a virtual guitar.

“I built a virtual instrument by sampling my guitar,” said Magdaleno. “I created synthesized notes by analyzing the harmonic structure of those samples, and from there I was able to drag and drop them into a sampler program that music producers can use in digital audio workstations.”

Magdaleno so enjoyed his senior thesis project that he wanted to use his DIB Fellowship to encourage others to do the same. As part of the SEAS Office of DIB BRIDGE (Building Relationships, Increasing Diversity, and Growing Engineers) Week in early April, Magdaleno organized  a panel in which students from underrepresented groups talked about their experiences writing theses.

Magdaleno plans to keep both music and math in his life after graduation. He’s spent the last two summers interning at PIMCO, an investment firm based close to his home and in January, he’ll join them as a full-time data analyst.

“Working there allows me to stay close to a community that means a lot to me while working in an environment I really enjoy,” he said. “The people I met in my department during my internships were really welcoming. I liked how my position wasn’t just finance. It involved marketing and software engineering, so it was very multidisciplinary.”

Magdaleno also hopes to start a music collective in his hometown, giving more local artists opportunities to come together, perform and share their music. He had to travel quite a ways from home to get the college experience he wanted, and now he’s set to bring what he’s learned back home.

“I’m definitely going to miss Harvard,” he said. “But at the same time, I feel like I’m ready to move on to the next stage in my life.”

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