Undergraduate Research

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Alexus Cottonham

Headshot of researcher Alexus Cottonham
Aerospace Engineering
Graduation Year:
Spring 2017
“My independent research project has been a world of freedom.”

Alexus’ undergraduate research looks at women’s decisions to enter engineering fields.

Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Jill A. Marshall, Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Briefly describe your research project.
My research examines why women go into engineering fields. It is known that a majority engineering fields are predominantly male. I was curious as to why the women who do enter engineering feel encouraged, inspired, and motivated to do so. Research in this area had already shown that teachers, family, and peers have a strong influence on a female’s perception and interest in STEM. My research shows that early, positive STEM experiences play an important role in a woman’s decision to pursue engineering.

Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.
For this project, I started by researching the work previously done in this area. I formed a hypothesis and developed a survey of women engineering majors in the Cockrell School of Engineering. Once the surveys were collected and transcribed, I analyzed the results and presented the findings in a technical research paper.
Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?
I thought college would be similar to high school. Going to class, joining some clubs, and getting out. I am surprised by the number of opportunities in college that allowed me to discover new things about myself and the world around me. I was able to study abroad, learn about graduate school, and make connections that will last for a lifetime.
I never thought I would like research. I had no intentions of engaging in research. It was only through the encouragement of my ULN program coordinators that I acted on my curiosity.

How did you get involved with your research project?
For my junior year, I was presented with the options of doing an on-campus internship or a research project with the University Leadership Network. I chose to do research because the summer before I participated in a study abroad program in Beijing, China. I looked into the education of females during my time in China and wanted to continue with that interest coming back to UT.

Do you see your project connecting with your plans for your future?
Due to my experience with research, I have a deeper interest in engineering education and STEM education. I was able sit in on a graduate course and make connections with faculty within the Cockrell School of Engineering. I now want to pursue a post-bachelor’s degree in either engineering or education. My long-term goal is to combine my interest in education and research by becoming a college professor.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for this project?
I thought research was long, boring hours in a lab. My independent research project has been a world of freedom, as I have gotten to collaborate with other students, make my own deadlines, and explore areas of my interest. I did not think I would like going through the scientific method, but it has been enjoyable being able to use scientific methods to learn more about something of importance to me.

What advice would you give to a student who was thinking about research?
My advice to those looking into research would be to give it a try! It is worth exploring what you are passionate about and adding to the knowledge of the world.

Research Week showcases the exciting work of undergraduates across campus and highlights opportunities for students interested in getting involved. Co-sponsored by the Senate of College Councils and the School of Undergraduate Studies, Research Week takes place in the middle of April each year. Take a look at the online schedule of events to find out more about Research Week events.