We also caught up with Wendy for our Keeping Up With the SciCheers series on the blog! Check out her in-depth interview where she expands on the updates from below.
Update, April 2020: Wendy has her PhD! She graduated from UC Davis in 2017 after successfully defending her dissertation entitled, “Engineering Osteochondral Constructs to Treat Articular Cartilage Defects.” Wendy said completing her PhD was one of the hardest things she’s ever done, but she kept reminding herself of what she tells people about science as a Science Cheerleader: “You weren’t born knowing how to walk, but you figured it out and you practiced and now you’re running! That’s how you get good at science. It’s ok if it’s hard when you start, that means you’re going to do something important. You’ll figure it out, and with practice, you’ll start running before you know it!”
Wendy is now a Translational Post-doctoral fellow at UC Irvine. She’s still working to engineer cartilage, but now also works on creating both knee and nose cartilage. She also co-founded a biotech start-up company with some of her lab colleagues to commercialize the technologies she developed during her PhD. “As a Biomedical Engineer, I want to see the research I’m doing in the lab contribute to a medical product that will help someone live a longer and happier life.” UC Irvine’s Beall Applied Innovation interviewed Wendy about her research, life as a cheerleader, and encouraging other women in science. She was also interviewed by the Beyond the Microscope podcast.
Wendy is also back in school (WHAT?!) at the University of Southern California to get a masters degree in Regulatory Science, or as she puts it, “how the FDA regulates medical products.”
Wendy also works with the Science Cheerleaders directors as the Director of Outreach!
Update, May 2014: Wendy is now in graduate school at UC Davis in California! She is working toward her PhD in Biomedical Engineering. She’s also a Co-PI on Project MERCCURI with the Science Cheerleaders and colleagues at UC Davis! Project MERCCURI is a citizen science and science outreach project performed on the International Space Station (ISS)! Wendy helped enlist citizen scientists to collect microbe samples. 48 of those samples were selected and launched to the ISS on April 18, 2014.
Wendy has also been busy in her professional cheerleading career! In 2012, she danced for the Sacramento Kings and is now an Oakland Raiders Cheerleader!
SciCheer: What turned you on to science and when?
Wendy: I’ve always been interested in science. Since I can remember, I’ve wanted to know how things worked. In middle school and high school I became more interested in the biological sciences than chemistry or physics. Once in college I realized that I love physiology and the biomedical aspect of that. Basically, I’m interested in anything that explains how the body works!
SciCheer: Please tell us about your favorite and most challenging courses you are taking to prepare for your Ph.D.
Wendy: Favorite courses: systems physiology, systems pathophysiology, and cellular physiology; most challenging: principles of conservation – it was like four really hard classes crammed into one.
SciCheer: Which came first: your interest in science or cheerleading?
Wendy: I’ve danced on and off pretty much my whole life. I got more involved in high school because I was on the dance team, as my interests in science continued to develop. I continued to dance in college, as well as pursue an engineering degree, and that’s when I was really introduced to the idea of professional cheerleading. My collegiate coach was a captain on the Falcons and her ‘pro cheer’ style definitely influenced the team and my ambitions. Before then, I had thought of cheering for the NFL as a very small niche – like something only a select group of special people got to be involved with. Once I saw it as a tangible opportunity, I knew I wanted to do it.
SciCheer: Can you describe a typical day (at work, then cheering)?
Wendy: I’m a full-time student so I’m in class during most of the day. I also work as an undergraduate research assistant in a lab on campus. So typically, I go to class, then go to my lab to either work, study, or do homework. Then I go to practice. Sometimes after practice, I go back to the lab to do more work or study. I use a planner to schedule out my day, which really helps stay organized!
SciCheer: Did you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences?
Wendy: Honestly nothing frustrates me more than when people react based on what they think they know about cheerleaders or about scientists. Thankfully as I’ve progressed in my degree, I see that the people I work with don’t buy into those stereotypes. I’ve found that while most people don’t expect me to say I’m a Biomedical Engineering student and they think it’s great. Everyone I’ve dealt with professionally has been very supportive and helpful.
SciCheer: How did your fellow cheerleaders accept your interest in science?
Wendy: They think it’s great! Everyone on the team is so supportive of each other in every aspect of life. I love getting texts that say things like “Good luck, smarty pants!” from team mates when they know I have a test.
SciCheer: Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream (cheerleading, etc.) associated with beauty or being a ditz, and following another (a STEM career) usually associated with, well, geeks?
Wendy: Don’t believe people when they tell you you can’t have it all. I and every other professional cheerleader in the world are proof of that. There is no reason you can’t do everything you dream of. There will always be someone telling you something negative, no matter what you do, so just stop listening and work towards accomplishing your goals for yourself. And keep in mind that for every one person who says you can’t accomplish something, there are 10 other people saying you can and thinking that what you’re working toward, whether cheer-related or academically, is amazing. Like my mom always tells me, reach for the stars!
SciCheer: What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Wendy: DON’T GET DISCOURAGED. Believe your mom when she tells you YOU CAN DO IT!
SciCheer: Best cheerleading experience?
Wendy: My favorite singular moment is running out of the tunnel on the first game day and seeing thousands of waving flags. The best ongoing experiences are working with such talented women and getting to be so involved in the community.
SciCheer: Best science-related experience?
Wendy: Having a paper I co-wrote published in the Journal of Biomaterials. (Engineering fibrin matrices: The engagement of polymerization pockets through fibrin knob technology for the delivery and retention of therapeutic proteins.)
Learn more about Wendy in this Today Show feature.
UC Davis: Cheering Microbes into Space!
Daily Mail, UK: Mathematicians by Day, Cheerleaders by Night
Wired: Need a refresher? This cheerleader has you covered.
DIY Space Exploration: PR Meets Hard Science
Read guest blog posts from Wendy:
Cheers to supporting future scientists and engineers!