Student Research Showcase: Courtney Cowling

1. What was your path to UCCS and working with your faculty mentor?

I found my way to UCCS by following my desire to study the ways in which marginalized individuals are targeted by colonial powers. Specifically, I became interested in UCCS after learning about the Women’s and Ethnic Studies (WEST) program and the Matrix Center. These programs stood out to me because I wanted to attend a university that fostered an environment of inclusivity in both class work and research participation. I met my mentor, Dr. Tre Wentling, through a Trans Studies class I took with him. I was inspired by his eagerness to support his studies and his commitment to social justice. Given my interest in Dr. Tre’s research and my eagerness to conduct research myself, Dr. Tre and I decided to work together on a research project.

2. If you were describing your research/creative work to someone outside of your field, what would you say?

Gender has been theorized as a performance rather than an innate state of being. This sets the foundation for me to analyze the embodiment of transgender individuals. Specifically, I look at what influences the embodiment of transgender individuals. In my research embodiment encompasses one’s self identification, expression, physical body, and behaviors. There are a variety of influences I analyze including but not limited to social, financial, and location dynamics. Overall, my work explores how different influences either create or limit opportunities of embodiment for transgender individuals.

3. Which concept or discovery from your research/creative work most excites, invigorates or inspires you? 

I feel very inspired by my research because it pushes on our understanding of gender. Specifically, it rejects the innateness of embodiment and encourages a more dense understanding of gender. I find it thrilling to think about the complexity of gender and the role it plays in the lives of transgender individuals.

4. Describe how and why this research/creative work was started.  

During my first semester of research, I transcribed interviews conducted by Dr. Tre for his own research project. I was not planning to do my own work with these transcripts, but I heard a lot of discussion of various influences on embodiment. Specifically, I noticed how people were encouraged and/or discouraged to embody certain characteristics. Feeling inspired, I had a desire to seek out funding from the Undergraduate Research Academy (URA) to explore the embodiment of these participants more in depth. It was really important for me to seek out funding because there is often a lack of research on the experiences of transgender individuals in academia.

5. What has the experience of working with your faculty mentor and fellow researchers been like?       

My research experience has been full of joy and growth. It has been so rewarding to be able to have someone to talk with about my research and my progress. There is a lot of joy that comes from having a mentor get excited about findings I am excited about. Additionally, I have grown more than I knew I could. This growth comes from being encouraged to think more deeply about my research and from having a variety of people to brainstorm with me.

6. How has this work helped prepare you for your future in graduate school or your career?

My research has prepared me for my future in a variety of ways. I plan to work as an outreach coordinator after graduation, and the skills I’ve gained through my research will help me ensure I am doing the best I can to reduce the harm experienced by marginalized individuals. For example, I’ve learned how to talk with and truly listen to individuals with marginalized identities. This is vital as it will be my responsibility to provide the community with resources and programs to reduce any harm they are experiencing. Conscientiously listening to the needs of the community will allow me to provide them with tools and resources that will actually be beneficial.

7. What has been the most memorable part of working on this project with your faculty mentor?

What I find most memorable about working with Dr. Tre is all of the celebrations we’ve had. From finishing a simple task to getting accepted at a research conference, Dr. Tre and I seemingly always have something to celebrate! It has been very rewarding and fulfilling to know there is always something to be proud of, even if it is just doing the bare minimum.

8. What advice would you give first-year students who are interested in working with a faculty mentor?

I advise first-year students to reach out to their professors, and just talk with them! I have found UCCS faculty to be very invested in and excited about student participation in research. Even if the individual you talk with does not have an opportunity for you, they will likely point you in the right direction. Letting your professors or other faculty members know about your interests is the best way to find a mentor who is eager to work with you!

The Undergraduate Research Academy encourages UCCS students to expand their education beyond the classroom through participation in research and creative projects while engaging in mentorship with UCCS faculty. The yearlong collaborative research projects further students’ professional and academic development while furthering faculty members’ research program goals.

UCCS celebrates this year’s cohort of Undergraduate Research Academy student and faculty researchers. All those interested in participating should visit the Undergraduate Research Academy website for more information.