Madeline Brandt


September 1, 2015

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Adviser: Prof. Angélica Osorno [mathematics 2013–]

Thesis: Intersecting Hypergraphs and Decompositions of Complete Uniform Hypergraphs

What it’s about: I studied the relationship between two theorems from combinatorics: the Erdős-Ko-Rado theorem and the Baranyai theorem. The Baranyai theorem guarantees a certain decomposition of complete uniform hypergraphs, and the Erdős-Ko-Rado theorem puts an upper bound on the size of an intersecting uniform hypergraph. 

What it’s really about: Doing cool tricks with sets to make statements about their structure.

Who I was when I got to Reed: I was shy, but excited about all of the changes of coming to college—I wanted to be friends with every person I met, and like every book I read.

Favorite class: I loved the problems and the style of thinking in Math 372, Combinatorics, with Prof. David Perkinson [math 1990–]. It was the first time I was able to use tools from abstract algebra to solve problems from another area of mathematics.

Influential professor: Prof. Irena Swanson ’87 [math 2005–] shaped the way I think about mathematics. She also suggested that I study abroad in Budapest. I had a hard time leaving Reed because I like it so much, but that semester in Budapest ended up being one of my favorites.

Influential work of art: In my art history class, I wrote my final paper about the sculpture Tilted Arc by Richard Serra. It’s interesting because it is not a work of art that one would think would disturb people—it is just a long piece of tilted metal. Yet when it went up people had visceral reactions to it, both positive and negative. Like mathematics, many people looked at that sculpture and said, “I don’t get it.” But a few people saw its beauty, and fought for it.

Outside the Classroom: Ran the Reed reactor. Did ceramics. Spent a semester abroad in Budapest. Won the Class of ’21 Award.

How Reed changed me: I learned that I loved math. When I first came to Reed, I thought I wanted to study physics, and it wasn’t until sophomore year that I realized I wanted to major in math. Since then, I have gained a lot of skills that transferred to other areas of my life—patience, diligence, and doubtfulness—and regular sleeping hours.

What’s next: Pursuing a PhD in math at UC Berkeley. My goal is to become a professor at a college like Reed. 

Word to prospies: At Reed there is no such thing as a freshman dorm. Some of my closest friends my freshman year were seniors. I hung out with them, asked them questions, watched them apply to grad school, and learned by osmosis. Other than the academics, the people here are my favorite thing.