Jessica, a chemist and former Dallas Vigilantes cheerleader, joined youth cheerleaders, their coaches, and parents, to lead a citizen science project to help get people involved in NASA’s Asteroid Initiative! Special thanks to the North Texas Pop Warner Region and to the Oak Cliff Titans, Oak Cliff Redskins, and Fair Park Cardinals!
Learn more about Jessica’s interest in science and cheerleading, here!
What turned you on to science and when?
I have always been curious about my surroundings as far back as I can remember. My parents would probably classify me as one of those children that asked why about everything, and even then most answers did not satisfy me and sought out the answers on my own. I was in the 3rd grade in a social studies class, bored (if you know me personally this will not surprise you). It was in that class that I decided that I wanted to be in a field that kept me interested and always kept me searching for answers: a degree and career in science was a natural fit. I took as many science classes possible so I could prepare for college during high school.
You have a degree in biology from the University of North Texas. What drew you to that subject?
At first, I sought a degree in chemistry; I always loved how atoms form to make everything around us. In high school had a great chemistry teacher, who helped me develop a deeper love for science. I decided to pursue a degree in biology after taking microbiology in college. I just loved the lab and all the tests you had to perform for bacteria identification tests. I thought about becoming a doctor, but I knew I would enjoy being in a lab of setting, being able to work hands on.
Favorite and/or most challenging courses you took to prepare for your degree? Why?
I would have to say the most challenging course in college was Organic Chemistry. It was definitely one of the most interesting as well, but the course load was intense. It felt like they packed two years of course work into two semesters. But, at least you were able the “play” with the models of molecules. My favorite classes I took were my Genetics courses. Genetics interested me because genes are what make each individual unique. No two genomes are the same, except identical twins, which will shift from subtle epigenetic changes, so eventually they won’t be exactly the same–also pretty interesting topics.
You’re working as a chemist for a company that purifies chemicals for the semiconductor industry. What got you interested in that?
I honestly just fell into working as a chemist. A head hunter called me a few weeks after I graduated, seeing if I was interested in working as a chemist. I started off as an associate chemist after college at a pharmaceutical manufacturer. I started to look for a company that I could focus more in the laboratory. I wanted to perform more tests and become familiar with the instrumentation. I have been with my company (Honeywell) for almost three years. I have grown to love and appreciate the semiconductor industry. This industry has some very profound and groundbreaking discoveries that help shape our ever present technological society. I am proud to be a part of that.
Chemicals in the semiconductor industry need to be ultra-pure because any impurity present can affect the properties of the material. This will result in the semiconductor being defective. We receive our chemicals from a raw material supplier that specializes in the particular chemicals we need. Then our different processes at the plant purify the chemical to meet customer specifications.
Best part of your day job or studies?
The best part of my day is when I am analyzing trace metals. I love working with the ICP-MS and troubleshooting the instrument.
You cheered as a Dallas Vigilantes Dancer for a couple years. Why did you try out to be a professional cheerleader? What would you say is different about arena football cheerleading compared to college or the NFL?
I tried out for the Dallas Vigilantes because I missed being a part of a team and dancing in front of an audience. My Dad is the one that saw the audition was coming up. I thought it would be a great experience, and it was one of the most memorable times in my life thus far. Arena football is different from college ball or the NFL because the field is half of the size of a standard football field, only 50 yards from end zone to end zone. This makes the games extremely fast paced and high scoring. Plus, the fans are very close to the game and normally a few fans get footballs that were thrown into the crowd throughout the game. After every game the players, coaches, and dancers would go out to the field, walking around signing posters and memorabilia.
Which came first, your interest in science or cheerleading?
My interest in science came before my interest in cheering/dancing. When I was younger I played sports.I tried out for my high school’s dance team at the end of my eighth grade year. My sister had been on the team for the previous two years, so I decided that I would like to experience what I have seen from her time on the team. I ended up making the team, and was able to spend my freshman year on the team with my sister (she was a senior).
What’s your day job like?
I do various tests on ultra-pure chemicals (acids, solvents, and bases).These tests make sure the impurities in the chemicals are at low enough concentrations for the semiconductor companies to use to make chips, which electronics need to function properly.Most of the components in your electronics are manufactured by semiconductor companies; they allow you to text your friends and watch your favorite movie. I even get to wear a clean-room suit for one of the main tests (Trace Metals Analysis). Everything and everyone has trace amounts of metals in them, so this becomes a challenge when trying to determine if the metal is in the chemical or a contamination. We go to great lengths to keep our surroundings clean; this is one of our many goals.
What does it mean for you to be a chemist?
Being able to call myself a chemist means a great deal to me. I get to work in an environment that I love.Our role here at this plant is to make sure people get to enjoy their leisure activities in an indirect way, whether it be watch their favorite episode on TV or finding directions to their favorite restaurant–our plant has a hand in making the technology we use every day possible. The semiconductor industry is ever changing to meet the demands the consumer wants to see in the next generation of electronics. We are faced with a challenge every time the battery life needs to be extended, the processor needs to become faster, etc. With these advancements, the chemicals we produce have to become even more pure than before. I do not know if electronics make the world better, but they do at least allow society to enjoy the simple things in life, whether you need a good laugh because your day did not go accordingly or you want to talk to your significant other, it brings joy to people.
How do the qualities that made you a great cheerleader benefit you in your science career?
Both science and being a cheerleader involve a lot of hard work and dedication. You have to love what you do. I wouldn’t change any of it, it is the hard work they defines a person. Also, both require working as a team for a higher goal, teamwork is essential to succeed as a science and a professional cheerleader.
Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about cheerleaders or scientists?
These stereotypes happen every single time I tell people that I am a chemist and I used to be a professional dancer.They just seem so shocked that I could be both, like I should be one or the other.They are not ever rude about it; they are more intrigued, and start to ask tons of questions about my science career and my cheering career. People just need to see more of us out there to get the word around that, “Hey, what says you have to be one or the other, I can be a scientist and a cheerleader, it is possible to pursue both.” I think if it becomes more common the stereotypes will start to fade away.
Best cheerleading experience?
I think my best experiences cheering were not when I was on the field, but was when I was at appearances.We were able to interact with the fans and especially going to the Children’s hospital. Those children are so full of life and talking to them was inspiring to hear about their stories and how they are coping with the challenge they have been faced with. They always brightened my day.
Best science-related experience?
Earlier this year I judged in the Fort Worth Regional Science Fair.It was spectacular to see all the children’s ideas and shear creative, intelligence that went into designing, performing, and presenting their projects.
If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you? If so, to what and why? If not, why not?
I loved everything about pursuing a degree in Biology.If I were able to change my degree I would have to change to Material Science and Engineering.This particular field is charting never-before-seen discoveries in science.The field I am currently in is related to this field, but being an engineer that gets to direct where nanotechnology is heading would be unreal.
What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Keep your chin up, and always look ahead. Everything happens for a reason, so embrace everything that has been given to you, you will eventually see why it happened the way it did.
What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I am a member of the Cherokee Nation.
Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
The only thing you will really ever see watching on TV is sports. I love sports, especially football if it has football in the name I’ll watch it.I also watch old classic movies.Also, I like to draw mainly graphite and paint with pastels. Eventually, I am planning to branch out and learn how to paint with other media.I take pictures of landscapes in my spare time, I always try to take a camera with me wherever I go. I love capturing moments in time! I just bought a bike; my friends talked me into it, so I am going to take a gander at that, it will keep me outdoors, so it is a win-win.
What are your plans for the future?
I just want to make to most out of the life I have been given. I want to stay in the science industry because it is a part of who I am as a person. I also want to get married and eventually start a family.
Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
I think it is everyone’s duty to get back to the community, whether it is a big or small contribution. People need guidance, and if I reach just one girl that needed help understanding that stereotypes are nonsense, then I will feel like I have done my part. “Be unique.”
Video: Science cheer