Undergraduate Research

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STUDENT PROFILE

Mary L. Cantu-Garcia

Headshot of researcher Mary Cantu-Garcia
Major:
Psychology and Communication Sciences and Disorders
Graduation Year:
Spring 2017
BDP Certificate:
Children & Society
“Being involved in research so early allowed me to take my time in discovering work I am truly passionate about.”

Mary’s undergraduate research has studied how Latino children with Spanish accents perceive themselves in academic and social contexts.

Faculty Supervisor:  Dr. Catharine Echols, Psychology

Briefly describe your research project.
As part of the honors program in Psychology, I developed an independent study exploring how Latino children with Spanish accents perceive themselves in academic and social contexts, as well as their likelihood of perceiving discrimination in situations where they may be judged by their speech, such as a speech contest. Plenty of research tells us how non-native accented individuals are perceived by members of majority groups, so I wanted my work to explore how these individuals perceive themselves and the world around them.
 
Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.
To develop my study, I conducted a literature review to create research questions that had yet to be explored. I developed some new measures, as well as adapted existing ones, to understand various factors in relation to Spanish-accented Latino children, such as stereotype consciousness and perceptions of discrimination. Finally, I engaged in participant recruitment, contacting prospective participants through community organizations and reaching out to previous participants from our database at the Children’s Research Center. My favorite task of all, however, is sharing what I hope my work will achieve with others.

Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?
As a first-generation student, it’s interesting now to realize that as I applied to UT, I was unaware of just how many opportunities college had to offer, one of these being research involvement. In some ways, I believed college would be like high school, but with more difficult coursework and a more diverse student and faculty population. I knew I wanted to engage in other activities aside from my classes, but at the time wasn’t quite sure what they would be.

How did you get involved with your research project?
On my very first day of class in August 2012, I fell in love with language development. I sat in an introductory linguistics course and was completely in awe at the interesting questions that research had sought answers for. In my second semester, I became involved in research with Dr. Catharine Echols, who studies child language development.
 
Do you see your project connecting with your plans for your future?
My project has inspired me to continue working toward improving the representation of people of color in academic settings and institutions. I was recently admitted to Masters programs in Higher Education and hope to pursue research as a graduate student.
 
What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for this project?
One of the things that struck me the most was the realization of how varied accented children’s experiences are across the United States and Mexico. In the U.S., bilingualism is not often encouraged at school and many times, children face repercussions for speaking languages other than English. However, in Mexico children are encouraged to communicate in more than one language, particularly in English, and accents were not perceived negatively among students in the classroom I interacted with.

What advice would you give to a student who was thinking about research?
It is never too early to start exploring your interests! As a freshman in research, I was one of the youngest people in my lab. However, being involved in research so early allowed me to take my time in discovering work I am truly passionate about. As a student at UT you are provided with access to people and tools that will help you achieve success in whatever you are determined to do.

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.