Honors College: Matthew Alexander (’11)

Unlike many Honors College students, Matthew Alexander didn’t enter the college straight from high school. Instead, he became an Honors student 15 years later.


Originally enrolling at UNT after high school graduation in 1993, he says a lack of direction caused him to leave the next year.


“No one else in my family had a college degree, and I had no sense of direction with what I wanted to do in college,” he says.


After working in several jobs, Alexander earned his master electrician’s license and had a successful career for more than 10 years. He says he decided to return to UNT part time in 2007 “because I was at the point at which I decided that if I didn’t go back to college, I would never go back.”


He chose a history major, and this time, he enjoyed his UNT classes so much that after his freshman year, he decided to apply for scholarships so that he could attend full time. He contacted James Duban, director of the Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships, who, after learning about Alexander’s interest in research, told him about the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. In turn, the program’s director, Diana Elrod, told Alexander about the Honors College.


“A course that I had with Dr. John Books in political science had sparked my interest in research. I wrote a 20-page foreign policy paper,” Alexander says. “I had not completed enough hours to enter the McNair program, but I was accepted into the Honors College, and the following year, I got into McNair as well.”


For his Honors thesis and McNair project, Alexander focused on the environmental history of the Southwest, combining his love of the region he often visited as a child with an interest in the environment he developed after writing a class paper on the history of the American bison. He spent most of the summer of 2010 in Hatch, N.M., to research the town’s agriculture after being selected for the UNT Department of Anthropology’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.


“I wanted to look at the culture of a place from the ground up, and I knew that would require an interdisciplinary approach,” Alexander says. “I learned how to apply anthropological theories to the culture of New Mexico.”


Todd Moye, associate professor of history, was his thesis advisor, and Mariela Nunez-Janes, associate professor of anthropology and his faculty mentor for the REU, became a mentor for his thesis as well.


Now a doctoral student at Southern Methodist University’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Alexander is writing four papers on water issues in the American West, focusing on northern New Mexico.


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