Hi science fans! Here’s a great interview with Sarah, who is Research Technician and a cheerleader for the Carolina Hurricanes (National Hockey League). Sarah was also a Girl Scout, reaching the Cadette level and earning the Bronze Award!

What got you interested in STEM?
I decided to pursue a degree in chemistry after having a series of engaging science teachers throughout middle and high school. I also really enjoyed math and thought that chemistry was a wonderful way to develop my math skills in a field where I could help people through research for medicine.

Why did you try out to be a cheerleader for the Carolina Hurricanes Storm Squad?
Before starting college, I had been a dancer for many years. I wasn’t able to keep dancing in college, but after graduation and joining the ‘real world,’ I needed an outlet for my creative side. After a long day in the lab, it’s great to be able to head to the arena and be a part of the crowd’s excitement and energy to rejuvenate me! The community of smart, supportive women that I cheer with has been a wonderful asset.

What is your job and what do you do in your career on a daily basis?
My job is to create synthetic modified histones. Histones are the proteins that are used to organize your DNA. DNA is the genetic code that holds instructions for making everything in our bodies. The modifications that I make to the histones can change how the genetic code is read. Our bodies modify histones on their own, so my job requires me to make histones look and work just like the ones we naturally make. I work in a laboratory and use special instruments such as High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) systems to purify my histones from other chemicals used to make them. I also use Mass Spectrometry to analyze all the specific elements in my histones and match them to confirm they’re made just right!

What does it mean for you to be practicing in STEM?
 For me, being a scientist allows me to continuously ask and answer the question “Why?” I love getting to learn about new scientific concepts and then apply them in my job! My current work helps other scientists make sure that their epigenetics research can be performed to a high standard and can lead to finding solutions for diseases like cancer.

How do the qualities that make you a great cheerleader benefit you in your STEM career?
Being a great cheerleader means that I work well in a team, which is perfect because scientific research requires collaboration. Cheerleading also has taught me to maintain a positive attitude and hold high expectations for myself at all times! These qualities are exceptionally beneficial for a career in STEM because science is not always easy, and it’s important to work hard and keep pressing on when experiments don’t go quite the way I want.

There are stereotypes about cheerleaders in our society that make it seem unlikely that a cheerleader could be a scientist/engineer/etc. You’re a great example of how these stereotypes are not true. How do you feel about breaking down stereotypes about cheerleaders and scientists?
I love being able to break down all kinds of stereotypes! I once had fans make a joke to me about cheerleaders not being able to do math because we don’t study STEM, and I took that opportunity to tell them not only about my own science career, but also about the other amazing women on my team. My most favorite interactions though are with our youngest female fans. I get to be an example and role model for them. No one needs to compromise any of their interests because of the expectations of others!

Best cheerleading experience?
My best cheerleading experience was when the Carolina Hurricanes clinched their spot in the playoffs after a long postseason drought. The hopeful energy in the crowd during the day and the excitement during the game were absolutely amazing. When the game ended and our spot in playoffs was officially secured, I had to take a moment to just look around at the strong women who I had worked with all season and at all the fans who had been there for the ups and the downs who now got to stand with unlimited pride for their team.

Best science -related experience?
The best science-related experience I have had was when I published my first scientific paper! Scientific research can have a lot of ups and downs. Having this success in my field was a great moment, and it allowed me to share my research with friends and family. Now I’m looking forward to the day when I get a first-author publication! [Editorial note from Wendy: In scientific research, the order of authors indicates each person’s contribution to the scientific study being published. For example, the first author is typically the scientist who designs the experiments, performs most of the lab work, and analyzes/draws conclusions from the data. The second and thirds authors, etc., support the first author in these tasks. The last author is the Professor in who’s lab the work is taking place and who’s grants fund the research.]

What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
If I could talk to my 12-year-old self, I would tell her that with practice, Geometry can get a lot easier! Studying often and talking about subjects out loud with others are some of my favorite ways to stay ahead in courses. I believe that when you can teach a subject to someone else is when you’ve managed to learn it fully!

 What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
People may find it surprising that I wasn’t ever a cheerleader before my professional experience! I had history as a dancer and in the performing arts previously. After gaining a love for sports in college, I knew I wanted to cement myself in a community of sports fans, and found that I could use my dance skills and enthusiasm to do that!

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