This is a guest blog post from Science Cheerleader Wendy Brown. Wendy is a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at UCDavis, a former cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcons and Sacramento Kings and one of the lead Principal Investigators of Project MERCCURI, a research project we are sending to the International Space Station. Wendy’s the center piece of this Today Show feature about the Science Cheerleaders.
One of my favorite stories is of an experience I had while with the Science Cheerleaders at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. As I was walking around and looking at the Festival exhibits, a man told me that I looked “out of place” amongst all the science and engineering displays. I smiled and politely responded in the full glory of my SciCheer unform, red lipstick, pom poms, and engineering degree, by explaining my background and that we were at the festival to connect kids, especially girls, to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). His mouth literally dropped open! This is becoming a recurring event. I started my day at the Western Sierra Collegiate Academy (WSCA) Science Fair with almost exactly the same scenario. And I think I love it.
I’m honored to visit science and engineering events, to speak with contributors to STEM fields and kids that will grow up to hopefully love science as much as I do, and to break down stereotypes while doing it. From a scientific perspective, it was great to see such effective science education. These middle schoolers had formulated testable hypotheses, effectively presented their experiments and results, and could draw conclusions based on their data. This is something we graduate students still struggle with! The projects were fascinating. I learned that people drive faster when listening to heavy metal and pop music than country music, fatigue from lack of sleep decreases fine motor skills, vitamin C content is decreased by cooking fruits and vegetables, and many other things I have been wondering but never tested. I also talked to several visiting high school students that were interested in biomedical engineering as their college degrees. I was happy to talk about my degree, the diverse types of research it covers, and that I am involved in tissue engineering.
From a less clinical standpoint, it warms my heart to see an entire school running around and enthusiastically looking at each other’s projects. I felt almost like a celebrity, talking to everyone, getting to look at all the posters, and taking pictures. I made everyone I took a picture with yell “Go science!” as loud as they could before we took it. I was introduced as a “VIP science guest”, and students got credit for asking me questions about what kind of science I do. I commonly answered, “I make cartilage from stem cells that I get from skin.” Some students were enthralled. Most asked me more science questions, and were even more wowed when I told them I had also cheered for the Atlanta Falcons, Sacramento Kings, and Sacramento Mountain Lions.
A girl even told me that I was inspirational and she was so happy she could finally relate to someone who loved both science and sports and didn’t always fit in. I legitimately almost cried when she hugged me.
I strongly believe that all this goes to show how both boys AND girls are downright hungry for knowledge and want to be supported in their quest for it. It also emphasizes what I’ve experienced. We all feel the push and pull of society and our peers and family. Science education and the support of our future scientists are crucial. Cheers to WSCA for creating some amazing future scientists! Goooooo science!