Former Arizona Cardinals Cheerleader, engineering intern, and Science Cheerleader Emily appeared at the STEM in Sports Expo in Phoenix on September 27 where she talked about her career, citizen science and more!
Hi, Emily! Why did you pursue a degree in biomedical engineering from Arizona State University?
In high school I shattered my foot in track (I was a sprinter) and during that time I did a lot of thinking about how I could have prevented it. I was in a boot for ~6 months and my foot never totally healed. The best thing I did was get orthotics for my shoes that had a special form for my injury. Basically there is a large bump in the middle of my orthotics so there is less pressure in the ball of my foot where it was fragmented. I thought it was so interesting and soon wanted to start designing athletic shoes, prosthetics for lower limb amputees, and other things that could help athletes perform better or even participate at all.
Favorite and/or least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degree? Why?
Hands down my least favorite course was Physics, just ask anyone in my family! Thank goodness they put up with me around finals time when I was taking that class! Capstone was my favorite because we were able to pick the projects we wanted to do and as I previously mentioned I have always loved athletics and trying to enable people to be active every day. I worked with a group to help improve range of motion for below-the-knee amputees. There are so many impressive prosthetic ankles coming out today, but many of them lack the side-to-side movement that we use in many different activities (football, basketball, playing tag, or even stepping on something the wrong way). My team specifically focused on how we could incorporate this movement while maintaining stability. This was the toughest class and the most work intensive, but also the class I learned the most from. I also had the greatest team ever… our team name was “The Cankles.”
Tell us about the teams you cheered for, how long you’ve cheered for them, and why you tried out to be a professional cheerleader.
I cheered for Arizona State University and the Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders. I did them both for one year. I would have continued on the Cardinals, but class got in the way my final year and I couldn’t make it to practice (bummer)! I decided to audition for a couple reasons, but I think the biggest two reasons were to be part of a team again and also to dance again! I missed dancing and being part of a fun-loving team and with Cardinals, that is exactly what I got. I had the greatest coach (Heather), captain (Taryn), and teammates. We also had the greatest line; it’s 3 years later and I still talk to them regularly!
Which came first? Your interest in engineering or cheerleading?
Well, my interest in math specifically came early on in my life. I have always enjoyed it, but if I am looking specifically at the engineering path vs. cheer, then I would say cheering came first. I started cheering back in middle school after I quit gymnastics. Both my sisters were amazing dancers and I always wanted to be like them so I stopped gymnastics to do dance, but missed the tumbling, so cheer quickly became something I enjoyed doing. I continued doing dance and cheer throughout high school, college and then professionally.
What was a typical day like for you when you were at school, work, and cheering?
When I was on the cheer team I was also working and going to school, so my day included a lot of work and little sleep. I would wake up early to work out, then go to school until class was over, drive to work until 5:00-5:30ish and get to practice about 30 min. early to practice before practice. I would practice and then go home and do homework, wake up the next morning and repeat. Let’s just say my weekends entailed a lot of homework time (NERD ALERT!).
Best part of your day job?
This is going to make me sound nerdy too! I love learning and something special about working in the engineering field is that I learn something new every single day. As an engineer I get to work with marketing folks, sales folks, business teams, and other engineers so there is never a lack of new challenges.
How have you dealt with stereotypes (regarding cheerleaders or engineers)?
I never paid attention to that honestly. However, on my first day of class my junior year I walked into differential equations and the teacher came up to me and said “I think you might be in the wrong class” so I responded with “Is this Differential Equations?” he said “Yes” and I said “Then I am in the right class.” He was quite surprised! Even then it never hindered or helped me, though, and I think that was more because I was a blonde female, I thought it was funny.
Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between one dream and another?
My advice would be not to have just one dream, but multiple dreams. Be confident in yourself and never be ashamed of who you are. How lucky to be able to not only be on a cheer/dance team with a wonderful group of ladies, but also collaborate and work with some very intelligent people. Don’t take either one for granted. Besides, haven’t you heard? Nerd is the new cool thing. I’m proud of being a nerd! My husband uses the term “brainiac”, I like that one too!
Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Never try to hide that you are smart, but be humble. Have some fun, life isn’t about what grades you get in school. I don’t think I learned that until after I graduated! Also, your future husband loves that you’re a nerd and all of the Excel sheets you make, so embrace it!
What are your plans for the future?
I think it changes every day. Right now my plan is to go back to school to get my master’s in Software Engineering. One day I would love to be a college professor for math and engineering classes!
Best cheerleading experience?
I don’t think I could pick just one… every practice, every game, every event I spent with my team was amazing. I couldn’t have picked a better group of girls to be friends with for the rest of my life.
Best engineering-related experience?
I think the best engineering-related experience would have had to have been when my team and I finally got to report out and show our ankle we worked on all year. We were so proud and excited with what we accomplished.
What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I love to run and box for my workouts. I run with my dad ~3 days a week. I have run 6 half marathons and 1 marathon. My husband Billy is a personal trainer and he has taught me how to box. I’m getting pretty good at it, so watch out!
If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you? If so, to what and why? If not, why not?
I actually get asked this question a lot and I go back and forth. I do think a different engineering discipline may have opened more doors for me, but bioengineering gave me a look into all of the different disciplines. In my major I was able to take classes in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer engineering, industrial engineering, and also incorporate healthcare which has always been interesting to me. I would say with 100% confidence that I would for sure do engineering again even if I changed which area.
Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
I think it is important that girls know they don’t have to stick to one stereotype or one path. I believe in exploring everything in life. I like to show that you can be serious in your career, but still have fun. 🙂