Class of 2018: Alexandra Doten wants to help young students reach for the stars

MyVU has profiled 14 members of the Class of 2018. We’re featuring their stories in the lead up to Commencement on May 11.

Alexandra Doten’s passion for blending science, education and outreach was born from a failure.

Doten took an astronomy class her first semester freshman year and failed the first test. Being used to straight A’s, she met with professor David Weintraub to drop the class.

“I told him, ‘I don’t think I’m smart enough to do this. I just need to do something else.’ But he sat down with me and inspired me to stick with it,” said Doten, a human and organizational development major.

Doten ended up earning an “A” in the class and fell in love with astronomy in the process. She’s spent two summers working at NASA in special roles combining science and communications.

Alexandra Doten (bottom left) and friends watch the total solar eclipse on campus with Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (top right) on August 21, 2017.
Alexandra Doten (bottom left) and friends watch the total solar eclipse on campus with Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos (top right) on August 21, 2017.

“Now books on relativity and how the universe was formed line my bookshelf,” said Doten, who splits her time outside of Vanderbilt between Boston, Massachusetts, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “And Professor Weintraub has been without a doubt the most influential figure in my Vanderbilt career. He exemplifies one of my favorite parts about Vanderbilt, which is how much the professors truly care about students.”

Doten’s plan is to expand her passion for astronomy and education after graduation.

“If I could create my dream job, I would be working in the space field and doing public outreach, specifically to children,” she said. “I never had the opportunity to take an astronomy class through elementary, middle or high school. I want to bring that magic to them.”

Doten is already working on part of that dream. She created an education outreach program at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The program includes a hands-on engineering curriculum for young patients, as well as a three-step process for introducing any new educational technology donated to the Children’s Hospital.

“I love the idea of giving these kids special bragging rights,” Doten said. “When they come out of the hospital, instead of just talking about their medical condition, they can tell their friends, ‘I was learning about robotics. I was 3-D printing. I was building circuits.'”

Beyond these endeavors, Doten also has served as editor-in-chief of the Vanderbilt Political Review, for which she’s written since her freshman year. “I’ve been able to mesh my love for politics, science and communication,” she said.

Doten said her love of learning has been deeply nurtured at Vanderbilt. “I took calculus, anthropology and philosophy classes for fun because this school makes it so enjoyable to learn,” she said. “I think that’s what I’m most grateful for about this school—it’s an environment where people love to learn and want to push their own boundaries. It inspires me every single day.”

Alexandra Doten (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)
Alexandra Doten (Anne Rayner/Vanderbilt)