Wendy Brown is a cheerleader for the Oakland Raiderettes, performing dance routines at football games for which she makes $5 an hour. But Brown thinks girls should be more interested in following her example into her other occupation: scientist. When she’s not shaking pompoms, Brown is earning her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the University of California Davis. That’s why she’s a member of the Science Cheerleaders, a group of women with big smiles and even bigger brains, who share an ambition to get young girls to think differently about careers in science and engineering.
Brown told Zack Seward of Onward, “Our ultimate goals are to inspire young people to be interested in science, specifically young girls, and to playfully challenge stereotypes.” The Science Cheerleaders, whose members also include professional cheerleaders for the Redskins, the Titans, and the Kansas City Chiefs who are studying and working in such fields as engineering, neuroscience, and pathology, performed at the half time of a recent Philadelphia 76ers game, where they were introduced with information about their research interests and led the crowd in a participatory science project.
Hilary Nicholson, a cheerleader who’s working toward a Ph.D. at Brown, told Seward, “I stand out on the court and they announce I’m a molecular pharmacology and physiology Ph.D. student, and I have my hair curled and I’m wearing a short suit and it doesn’t look like what they’re expecting. That polar opposite perception really drives the point home.” Three cheers for that!