Meet Summer, a former Houston Texans cheerleader who now spends her days developing space flight hardware. This interview is part of a series of Science Cheerleader’s nationally recognized efforts to playfully challenge stereotypes.
SciCheer: Please tell me when/how you first became interested in engineering.
Summer: When I was a freshman in high school I watched Apollo 13 in my Earth Science class and felt immediately inspired to become an engineer at NASA.
SciCheer: What type of engineer are you and what turned you on to this field?
Summer: I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering. My interest in atmospheric flight and beyond fueled my desire to pursue Aerospace Engineering.
SciCheer: Do you find that your looks (or being a former cheerleader) helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences? (Were you taken seriously?)
Summer: I recall a few students and professors looking at me as if I were lost as I proceeded through the halls of the engineering building at school for the first few weeks. At work, there was some negative reaction to the fact that my part-time job was on the sidelines of a football field. It could have hindered me, had I allowed it but I pressed on and, in the end, I was taken seriously. Beauty can be both a curse and an advantage in a woman’s professional life.
SciCheer: Tell me a little about your favorite courses you took to prepare for your work?
Summer: I absolutely loved learning engineering! My favorite courses were Aerospace Propulsions, Space Dynamics, Aerospace Design, Flight Mechanics and Controls and Aircraft Accident Investigation. Though my career has taken me in a direction in which I do not commonly use the technical specifics of these courses they prepared me in other ways. The course work enhanced my critical thinking and problem solving ability as well taught me presentation skills and engineering professionalism. The variety of classes really opened my eyes to previously unimaginable possibilities for a career in the engineering world.
SciCheer: Can you describe a “typical day” at work?
Summer: There is no typical day at work in my current position. There is always something new, which I enjoy. I spend 90% of my time in laboratories where engineers and technicians are working to develop and sustain space flight hardware containing electronics.
SciCheer: Do you have any advice for middle or high school girls who might feel torn between following one dream (cheerleading or dancing) associated with beauty or following another (science/engineering/medicine) usually associated with, well, geeks?
Summer: There is no reason why you cannot do both! Learn good time management skills and develop healthy habits (proper eating, sleeping & exercise) so you can physically, mentally and happily pursue the dual role. These dreams can collide and create huge success for you.
SciCheer: Best cheerleading experience?
Summer: It is very difficult to choose one moment as my best cheerleading experience. Aside from every game day performance, my best experiences lie in what I got to do off of the field as a cheerleader. An appearance on ESPN Cold Pizza and 1 vs. 100 game show, starring in NFL Presents: Rocket Science, being a key note speaker at the 2009 Super Sci-Tech Saturday Conference and flying on a KC-135 during a mid-air refueling mission with the Texas Air National Guard are a few experiences that really stand out.
SciCheer: Best engineering experience?
My best engineering experience was watching the project I worked on for 4 years – International Space Station Crew Quarters – launch on Space Shuttle Endeavor in November 2008. I stood with my project team as we watched Crew Quarters blast off on Endeavor into a beautiful night sky aiming for their final destination, the International Space Station, to be used by astronauts for years to come. It was what I deemed my first engineering success and best engineering experience.
SciCheer: Anything you’d like to add that you want people to know?
Summer: While I was earning my engineering degree I also earned my Private Pilot’s license. In addition to an academic scholarship that I received from Cessna Aircraft Company, I participated in pageants through the Miss Kansas Organization to earn scholarship dollars for my education. The pageants involved interview, talent, swimsuit and evening gown competitions as well as promoting a platform.
SciCheer: What is your current position?
Summer: My position changed just under one year ago. Formerly, I was a project engineer in the Crew and Thermal Systems Division at NASA – Johnson Space Center. I currently work as the contractor Sustaining Engineering Lab Manager in the Avionic Systems Division.
SciCheer: Which team(s) did you cheer for and when?
Summer: Houston Texans – 2005, 2006, 2007
[Meet Summer and a dozen other Science Cheerleaders–procheerleaders-turned-scientist–as they perform live at the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., Oct 23-24. Then, back at the Science Cheerleader/Going Pro Entertainment exhibit, get their autographs and hear first-hand how they bridged two seemingly different worlds. Interested sponsors should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.]