Alumnus Mauro Garcia ’18 recently announced some exciting news: after declining multiple offers from Ivy League schools and other top world-ranked institutions, he has accepted a full-ride scholarship to pursue a doctorate in pharmacology and molecular sciences at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, ranked #5 in the world by QS World University Rankings. Garcia was one of 9 “exceptional scholars” selected for the prestigious fellowship, which includes an additional $15,000 stipend on top of a yearly stipend to fund his studies.

An outstanding first generation student, Garcia discovered his passion for not only chemistry but also music at Southwestern. Impactful experiences in professor Maha Zewail-Foote’s introductory chemistry class and at Southwestern’s SCOPE Summer Research Program led him to switch his major from biology to chemistry. At the same time, voice lessons with former Southwestern faculty soprano Dana Zenobi helped him realize his in-demand countertenor vocal range (a rare male falsetto register that is equivalent to a female mezzo-soprano voice). 

With Zenobi’s encouragement and funding from a Sarofim School of Fine Arts travel grant, during his senior year at Southwestern Garcia applied for and secured a coveted spot in the Sarah and Ernest Butler Opera Center Young Artist Program at the University of Texas at Austin. The in-depth training allowed him to experience firsthand how music and science converge, drawing links between vocal pedagogy and the anatomical components that make singing possible.

Garcia is not alone in finding connections between chemistry and music; the two studies have crossed paths in scholarly research and creative projects ranging from observing how chemicals react in the presence of music to composing music that portrays the chemistry involved in the creation of life on Earth. Many academics have also noted the shared skill sets among scientists and musicians, including pattern recognition, rigorous practice, and a dedication to learning from mistakes.

Perhaps the most important transferable skill between music and science is the ability to think creatively. “Training as a musician has allowed me to develop a creative and outside-the-box perspective when tackling scientific challenges,” Garcia shares. “During my PhD training, I intend to tackle one of the most challenging diseases that human kind has ever faced: Malaria. Pharmacologists must creatively and scientifically outsmart diseases. Creativity is essential for designing and developing effective drugs and vaccines. As a result, my training as a musician at The Sarofim School of Fine Arts has made me a creative and better scientist.”