Meet Adriene, a Baltimore Ravens cheerleader who is wild animal science.
SciCheer: What turned you on to science and when did that happen?
Adriene: I fell in love with animal science as a kid. I was always fascinated with animal behavior and being a caretaker. I tortured my poor mother because I loved EVERY animal and I always found a way to come home with a new pet. At one point, I owned two dogs, a rabbit, three hamsters, four birds, a turtle, and 48 pet mice. I also spent a lot of time working on farms and volunteering for a neglected and abused horse rescue farm.
SciCheer: Nice! What is your degree in and from where?
Adriene: I graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science.
SciCheer: Favorite and/or least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degree?
Adriene: My least favorite course in college was Organic Chemistry 2! The course required many, MANY hours of studying. My favorite courses in my degree were the anatomy and biotechnology laboratories. Specifically, University of Maryland owns fistulated cows that have a hole cut into their side, providing direct access to one of the four chambers of the stomach. (Imagine a huge rubber plug in the side of a cow!) I had the opportunity to put my whole arm into the cow’s stomach, analyze feedstuff, and apply the studies to scientific research such as digestion, medication absorption, and stomach cancer.
SciCheer: Had never heard the word Feedstuff, before today. Changing gears a bit…How long have you been cheering for the Ravens?
Adriene: This is my 5th year with the Ravens with the stunt team.
SciCheer: Which came first? Your interest in science or cheerleading?
Adriene: As long as I can remember, I have always been a scientist at heart with a secret obsession for performing. I started ballet, tap, and jazz when I was three and continued dancing for nine years until i hit my “tomboy” stage. I dabbled in soccer and track until I found my new passion for cheerleading in middle school. At that point, I was determined to both cheer in college and study veterinary medicine.
SciCheer: Can you describe a typical day (at work, then cheering…please elaborate)?
Adriene: I am a vet technician and administrative assistant in a nine-doctor animal hospital, which means a very high-pace environment on a day-to-day basis. A typical day could include anything from stat emergencies to general medical care. Some days I assist more in stabilizing patients; other days I’m needed to calm distraught pet owners. I’m expected to know venipuncture, pharmaceuticals, triage procedure, medical equipment, and how to keep up with nine different veterinarians. There’s never a dull moment!
A typical day at cheerleading practice starts with a 2.5 – 5 mile run 🙂 Every female on the team is expected to know and perfect sideline cheers and dances. In addition, the coed stunt team works on partner stunting, basket tosses, pyramids, and prepares game day material. We are very unique because the Ravens are the only NFL cheerleaders with a coed stunt team and technically skilled dancers. Both portions of the team perform two end-zone routines together at every home game.
Game day involves arriving five hours before kickoff in order to prepare for a long day. We have a full team practice on the field and interact with fans through appearances around the stadium leading up to kickoff.
SciCheer: Wow, another lesson learned. I just told someone that I wasn’t aware of any male pro cheerleaders. Let me know if any of those guys are scientists or engineers! OK, did you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences? (Were you taken seriously?)
Adriene: Working in an animal hospital is a daily challenge when it comes to avoiding stereotypes because it can At the animal hospital, I refuse to be known as a cheerleader because of the stereotypes associated with that. I can’t compromise the trust of a client when I’m treating their pet. Cheerleading is an interesting fact about who I am but it’s just one part of me. My teammates know I’m a bird nerd. Clinical animal care is my forte, however my passion is aviary nutrition and behavior. I am absolutely fascinated with exotic birds and parrots. At first, my teammates laughed at my bird obsessions, but now they have their own bird nerd moments.
SciCheer: A bird nerd who cheers for the Ravens. Of course! So, do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream (cheerleading, etc) associated with beauty and following another (a STEM career) usually associated with, well, geeks?
Adriene: There’s nothing more attractive than a female who embraces her intellect. Being beautiful means having a good heart, a strong mind, and using your mind to its fullest potential. Even if that means being a huge “nerd”, like me!
SciCheer: Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Adriene: Never let your goals be determined by your insecurities or fear of stereotypes.
SciCheer: How big of a role can citizens without formal scientific training play in real scientific research?
Adriene: Understanding animal welfare and how it applies to human medicine is a great start. Responsible animal research has played a critical role in nearly every medical advance in the past century, from heart disease to brain chemistry in diseases. In my opinion, as a citizen, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the differences between animal cruelty and humane research to help educate the public.
SciCheer: What are your plans for the future?
Adriene: My main goal is to have a career that I love which benefits others, too. It wouldn’t hurt to live somewhere tropical studying exotic birds one day either.  🙂
SciCheer: Best cheerleading experience?
Adriene: I will never forget the first home game last year when I led the team out onto the field. The deafening roar of 70,000 fans, cameras, and while we were running onto this huge, open NFL field was one of the most memorable moments for me.
SciCheer: That’s a powerful image. The stadium where I cheered (the Spectrum, in Philly), didn’t seat nearly that many fans but I know the feeling you’re describing. Surreal… So, what was your best science-related experience?
Adriene: One of my favorite animal science experiences was when I was assisting in my first emergency canine C-section surgery. We created an assembly line of technicians to help stabilize each pup as they were retrieved from the mother. The process involved stimulating breathing and removing fluid from the lungs to ensure each pup was breathing on their own. The experience was very surreal and rewarding: nine healthy, newborn pups!
Update, December 2012:
Unfortunately I don’t have many new exciting updates….however, my mom is doing pretty well. She had a brain surgery for her Parkinson’s disease a year and a half ago….and we had several emergency “fix-er-up” surgeries since then. She had a complete re-do surgery just a month ago and it’s been smooth sailing since. Hopefully we will be able to do the other surgery on the other side of the brain soon….last and final surgery 😉
I actually no longer work at the animal hospital. I was there for three years and unfortunately it wasn’t paying the bills…and I needed a more reliable career. Although it was a huge 10-doctor facility with state-of-the-art technology and medicine….unfortunately it’s hard to progress in animal hospitals. 🙁
Right now, I’m actively seeking a career in veterinary pharmaceutical sales….which will give me a chance to nerd out even more while still being in the animal science world. So I’m excited to see what I can find.
Ironically, I stumbled across a part-time job nannying…..which happens to keep science in my everyday life. A friend on the Ravens squad needed help with her precious little 5 year old. He was born severely premature with IVH (hemorrhage on the brain) and has several disabilities…which only encouraged me to learn a new area of medicine and therapy. I think my experiences, struggles, or just real life updates can be another way to break stereotypes of cheerleaders…starting with the love of science.
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