By Julia Travers – At first glance, science and cheerleading may not seem like fields that overlap very often. But thanks to Science Cheerleader Founder Darlene Cavalier, NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing STEM careers are being celebrated and are leading the way for other young women in the sciences. Darlene is a perfect example of a woman who breaks stereotypes—her professional successes have spanned the fields of cheering, science, education, media, and publishing, and she’s far from finished!
In addition to being the founder of both Science Cheerleader and SciStarter, Darlene is a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training, an author, wife, mother of four, and former cheerleader–she cheered throughout high school, college, and for the NBA with the 76ers.
While studying at the University of Pennsylvania, Darlene sought to “learn more about people like herself: hybrid actors, citizens interested in, but not formally trained in the sciences.” She told us that her work “started as a very personal quest. But now, I feel a sense of responsibility to continue to help open doors so current and future science cheerleaders and citizen scientists can maximize their awesome potential.” Here are Darlene’s descriptions of both Science Cheerleader and SciStarter:
Science Cheerleader is an organization of more than 300 current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. They playfully challenge stereotypes about what it means to be a cheerleader or a female scientist/engineer; they encourage young women to consider careers in STEM; and they engage people from all walks of life in science that advances important areas of research.
SciStarter helps connect people to authentic research projects in need of their help (‘citizen science’). There are more than 1600 projects and events currently registered on SciStarter. Millions of people rely on SciStarter to help them find their next project. People can earn credit for their contributions, too!
Darlene found her unique calling while working at Discover Magazine. “It wasn’t the content of the magazine that inspired me, it was in personal interactions with scientists and the understanding that there’s so much left to be discovered in our lifetime!”
While science and cheerleading may seem to be on opposite sides of the career spectrum, Darlene doesn’t see it that way. “I often hear Science Cheerleaders describe it this way: ‘The same qualities that make me a great cheerleader–persistence, good time management skills, strong public speaking skills, optimism, ability to work with a team, for example, make me a great engineer!'”
One of the cornerstones of Science Cheerleader is the Emmy award-winning “Science of the NFL Football” series, which Science Cheerleader produced with the NFL, NBC Sports, NBC Learn, and the National Science Foundation. The goal of the series was to use the popularity of sports to present a range and depth of science to a huge American audience. Darlene was proud to share that the science cheerleaders who introduced the segments online, “knew a LOT more about the science of football than the football players featured in the videos.”
For anyone who feels intimidated by, disconnected from, or unwelcome from the world of science, Darlene wants you to know this:
“Turns out that even scientists and engineers feel that way from time to time! When I stopped perceiving ‘science’ as a foreign concept and started to embrace it as a ‘way of learning,’ I felt less intimidated. When I’d enter into conversations with scientists to make suggestions or ask questions, I used to worry that they’d expose my ignorance by giving me a pop science quiz or intentionally make me feel inadequate for not having a formal science degree. That never happened. Well, occasionally, I’ll get that side-eye from a scientist who may be wondering, ‘Who invited her?!”
For more information on upcoming initiatives check out The Science of Cheerleading, a free e-book available on iTunes. And SciStarter 2.0 is rolling out later this month, so be sure to check that out too! Follow Darlene on Twitter for updates.
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