Meet Sammi Jo: Ravens cheerleader, science teacher and hard-core commuter

Sammi Jo, an 8th grade science teacher and Baltimore Ravens cheerleader, and nine other Science Cheerleaders will participate in the 3/16 Science Cheerleaders’ performance at NASA HQ in Washington D.C. as part of the White House’s celebration of Women in Science!

Let’s meet Sammi Jo now. Wait until you hear about the ridiculous commute she made during her rookie year as a procheerleader. Now THAT’s dedication.

SciCheer: So, what turned you on to science and when?
Sammi Jo: For as long as I can remember, I have always loved science. I am particularly captivated by earth and space science topics like meteorology, astronomy, geology and oceanography.   When I was younger, extreme weather always fascinated me. I was also mesmerized by the beautiful night sky full of stars and I was constantly digging in the rocks and dirt outside my house on a fossil hunt! I also love chemistry and think the periodic table is the coolest (shhh don’t tell!) I had two wonderful science teachers in high school that also inspired my career path. (Special “shout outs” to Mrs. Gajewski & Mr. Brandt!)

SciCheer: Tell us about your degrees.
Sammi Jo: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Earth and Space Science Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s degree in Education – Curriculum and Instruction– from Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania.  I love children and science, so I combined my two passions.

SciCheer: How long have you been cheering for the Ravens?
Sammi Jo: I have been cheering with the Ravens for three awesome years and this year I have the honor as serving as one of the co-captains on the dance team.
SciCheer: Congratulations! Which came first? Your interest in science or cheerleading?
Sammi Jo: Both science and cheerleading have been my true passions throughout life but I would say cheerleading and dance came first (I started dance lessons when I was four years old).

SciCheer: Can you describe a typical day?

Sammi Jo: That’s the beauty of my job(s). Every day is a different. Eighth graders keep me on my toes and I always have new, exciting experiences through cheering and participating in appearances for the Ravens. I must say that my daily schedule has lightened up since my first year on the team, since I have actually moved to Baltimore now.  During my rookie season with the Ravens, I lived and taught near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I would finish teaching for the day at 2:30 pm, get in my car and drive 218 miles to Baltimore for 6:30-9:30 practice, stay overnight at a townhouse I rented with some friends in Baltimore, then wake up at 3:15 am to make the 218 mile trek back to PA for work.  It was a lot of time management, balance, dedication and determination to pull me through that first year, but I’ve always been a person who doesn’t let anything stand in the way, not even a 436 mile round trip!

SciCheer: That’s insane! I’ll no longer brag about my (former) daily, train commute from Philly to NYC (I got to sleep, eat, work, read, and socialize at least!). Ok, did you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences? (Were you taken seriously?)
Sammi Jo: Both.  There have been times when I have not been taken seriously, but that motivated me to prove myself even more.   Being a Ravens cheerleader has proven to be a great conversation starter. Before my move, when I was interviewing for a teaching job in Maryland, I found that most schools thought it was awesome and were excited to have a role model especially for their young female students.  At one of my teaching interviews, I overheard a conversation about me being a cheerleader between principals before the actual interview (they were making fun of it): “Maybe she can tell us how the fireworks work at the stadium.”  During the interview, I realized  I was not being taken seriously.  When asked to give them an example of a chemistry lesson, I told them about a lab I do to show how colors are produced in fireworks by burning different metal salts.  I proceeded to tell them how there are two main mechanisms of color production in fireworks, incandescence and luminescence and how the incandescence of iron (with carbon) produced a gold colorant and how a mixture of strontium (red) and copper (blue) compounds produced purple colorant… “Much like the fireworks set off in the Ravens stadium on game day,” I added. :)

SciCheer: ZING. Nice one. How did your fellow cheerleaders accept your interest in science?
Sammi Jo: They’ve always been very supportive and know that I am a huge science nerd at heart.

SciCheer: Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream (cheerleading, etc) and following another (a STEM career)?
Sammi Jo: I say never ever feel torn between the two.  Dream big and NEVER let a stereotype stop you.  Instead let that be your inspiration and motivation to put the common stereotype to rest.  Pride yourself on being unique and never be afraid to go after exactly what you want.

SciCheer; Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Sammi Jo: Dream BIG.  Anything is possible.  You build your own happiness in life, so set out to do EXACTLY what you want to do. Don’t ever depend on someone else to make you happy.

SciCheer: What are your plans for the future?
Sammi Jo: I plan to continue teaching and possibly pursue teaching at the college level one day.  I also want to continue cheering as long as my body allows me to and I would like to have a family of my own one day.

SciCheer: Best cheerleading experience?

Sammi Jo:  Everything about the last three years as a Ravens cheerleader.  It has helped me grow and mature in so many areas of my life.  Also, every game day, there is nothing like the feeling of running out of the M&T Bank stadium tunnel to the tune of 70,000 screaming fans! Another wonderful cheerleading experience was coaching at the varsity level at my alma mater high school when I taught in Pennsylvania. I will never forget watching my girls (and also my younger sister, who was on the team at the time) do their very first routine under my direction as head coach.

SciCheer: Best science-related experience?
Sammi Jo: Studying geology in the Bahamas while in college.  I also love just about every day in my 8th grade Earth Science classroom!

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