With her permission, we are sharing a pretty cool email we received from Danielle, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cheerleader [Updated 2/17/14]:
My name is Danielle, and I am reaching out to the Science Cheerleaders on behalf of my Cheerleading Squad at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I serve as a Co-Captain. I joined the MIT Cheer Squad during my freshman year and have found it to be challenging beyond the physical demands of the sport. Psychologically, it has forced both me and many other members of the squad to be strong in our senses of self and confident in our abilities. As both women and cheerleaders, we are constantly under the eye of the public and receive a tremendous amount of commentary for our presence on a campus that is so stereotyped as being socially awkward, nerdy, and generally atypical of what is considered mainstream. It is interesting to see the reactions of people who would never expect someone like me or my fellow cheerleaders to go to a school like MIT, or to be studying engineering. I take pleasure in being an ambassador of changing the stereotypes of what it means to be an engineer, especially as a young woman of color, and also as a cheerleader!
I encourage you to watch our squad’s Fall 2012 Promotional Video here: This video showcases the values we share with cheerleaders everywhere: Hard Work, Dedication, Teamwork, Community, and Pride!
Our organization is extremely unique in that it features a collection of some of the brightest young scientists and engineers in the world who also choose participate in an activity that features many of its own stereotypes. As you know, we have a long way to go in pushing this message forward until it permeates our society so young girls see that what society defines as “feminine” and being interested in math, science, and technology aren’t mutually exclusive.
A little about my background: I attended a public high school in Northern Virginia where I became enrolled in a program called Girls Exploring Engineering (GE2), which played a tremendous role in my high school career. This course examines issues of the significance for women in engineering and provides opportunities for classroom enrichment, experience, and mentorship in STEM. At the beginning of high school, I was stubborn in my fear of cultural alienation, and I was hesitant in being prematurely sold to a career path where I was convinced I just wouldn’t fit in. All that changed, however, the night that the GE2 program paired me with a mentor who was a Virginia Tech graduate and Civil Engineer at a local firm. I can still remember how incredibly shocked and excited I was to see, right in front of my eyes, someone who didn’t just look down at her shoes but looked into my eyes and smiled right at me, someone who was curious, who valued fun and had an appetite for life, someone who prided herself in her intelligence just as much as she prided herself in being a woman, especially in engineering. It was because of this course that I transitioned from an aspiring journalist to where I am today, a rising junior in Computer Science at MIT and a Microsoft Software Test Intern.
I look back and can tell you that the stereotypes, institutionalized ideas, and labels that I had associated with STEM; those were the things that were blinding me from recognizing my very own potential. I had been on the track to accelerated math and science courses from third grade, when I changed elementary schools and took classes at a local Gifted and Talented Center. By the end of 8th grade, I’d taken all of the Calculus prerequisites offered at my middle school. I ended up in AP Calculus by junior year, and during Senior Year the only way I could take more math classes was to commute to another high school every other morning to take Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra through a dual enrollment program with a local university.
So why was it that at the beginning of high school, I had zero interest in pursuing a career in STEM? It wasn’t that I had never connected the dots from my strength in math and science to eventually becoming an engineer or scientist. It was that, beyond my interest and abilities in media studies and writing, there was a key difference between me being a journalist and me being a scientist or engineer: I was able to see myself being one, and I just couldn’t see myself being the other until I participated in the GE2 Program.
It is organizations like the Science Cheerleaders, which challenge stereotypes and encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM, that have tremendous potential to drastically impact the diversity and passion that resides within both academia and industry today. I would be incredibly honored to have our squad and its stories be highlighted on your organization’s website.
MIT Cheerleading Squad
PS: For fun, if you haven’t already seen the viral MIT Gangam Style video, you can check it out here and watch us hitting our toe-touches at 1:37!
Update:Since we’ve last touched base, I’ve signed a full-time offer as a Program Manager at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Cambridge, MA, launched a website called Gique.Me (pronounced “geek dot me”), which targets people who are both left- and right- brained who love art and technology (totally applies to us science cheerleaders!), and am currently finishing up my senior year in computer science at MIT. This semester, I’m taking Strobe Lab (which is an art/photography and science hybrid which teaches high-speed photography in a lab setting) and the Psychology of Race and Gender (which unravels many of the stereotypes underrepresented people in STEM face).