Being well-grounded is helping alumnus Alexander Cox reach great heights, both figuratively and literally. Named the 2014 Air Force Cadet of the Year at a Dec. 5, 2014, Pentagon ceremony, 2nd Lt. Cox has reported for flight training with the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program — preparation, possibly, for a career as an astronaut.
The Rochester, Minnesota, native credits his “fantastic parents” for his rise. “How they raised me and my siblings really set us up, instilling ideas of hard work and honesty, being kind and working with other people as much as we can,” says Cox, who graduated in 2014.
Hard work marked his career at Washington University, where he earned both a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, summa cum laude, and a master’s in aerospace engineering in four years — while serving in AFROTC -Detachment 207 and as a member of the swim team, which he captained as a junior.
“Discipline is a big part of it,” Cox says, “particularly for a student athlete. I have always tried to put forth all my effort in everything [I do]. It would be 20 hours a week for workouts, and if we had a meet, it would be more like 30 hours. On top of that, I had classes and ROTC.”
The Cadet of the Year Award goes to the most outstanding cadet from the Air Force commissioning program, which includes Officer Training School, the Air Force Academy and Air Force ROTC, and numbers some 17,000 cadets. Criteria include military performance, academics and fitness. Cox’s 98.7 fitness score and his 3.93 GPA also earned him Detachment 207 Distinguished Graduate honors.
His success as a cadet led to his acceptance to flight training school. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Cox says, “and I figured I would regret it if I did not do it.” He also figures the training will likely open doors for him.
“This is a path that opens up a lot of opportunities — though I am not entirely sure what I want to do. Working to be a test pilot and then a career as an astronaut is a possibility. And if you want to really rise in the ranks in Air Force leadership, this is also a good path for that. Being an operational fighter pilot for your whole career is an option too,” Cox says. “I already have a 10-year commitment once I graduate flight school, so for the foreseeable future, the Air Force is my employer.”
A career with the Air Force is fine with Cox. He’s always wanted to be a military man.
“My dad has always had a huge interest in the military and in military history. On family vacations, we visited different Civil War battlefields,” Cox says. “My dad has a huge collection of military history books, and by second grade I was reading about the [WWII] Battle of Midway. That struck a chord with me, and a strong interest in the military grew from that.”
That interest led to a full-tuition ROTC scholarship. Cox wanted to be able to swim as a college athlete and had narrowed his school choices to Washington University and MIT. The ability to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s in four years (facilitated by Cox’s completing all his college math in high school through a University of Minnesota program) and a room-and-board offer sealed the deal for Washington University. It’s a decision he has not regretted.
“At WashU what I thought was so special — and believe more and more as I talk to other students and my siblings — is that people are so willing to go out of their way to work with you as a student. Faculty and staff are really there for you, and they want to make sure that you succeed,” Cox says. “That was a huge component of why I was able to have so much success.”
At the university, Cox also qualified for the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, the Pi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering Honorary and the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, and he earned the Erwin C. Hoelscher Memorial Outstanding Senior Award from the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science.