Meet Dionn and other Science Cheerleaders at the National Science Teachers Association conference in San Antonio! We will present, “Citizen Science on the International Space Station!”
2:00–3:00 PM on 4/11 in room 215, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Then, on 4/12, join us at the San Antonio Spurs game to collect microbes we will send to space! Learn more about Project MERCCURI. Purchase discounted tickets, here (use the promo code, SPURS).
Dionn, You have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and an MBA from Stanford. What inspired you to pursue those degrees?
I’ve always loved math and science as a child. Definitely a “numbers girl” even when it wasn’t cool. My first computer teacher was Mrs. Lemoine who taught me how to program a Radio Shack TRS-80 in the 6th grade. I promptly went home and created a program on our Apple IIe that required a password for the computer to run effectively locking out my older sister from the computer. It was awesome. I think I was hooked from that moment on. My grand vision as a youngster was to be the COO of IBM! My thought of needing an MBA was confirmed when I went to work for Helen Trollman at the IBM Santa Theresa Laboratories in the summer of 1991. She told me “Manage what you know” and counseled me on how an MBA would be critical for my career, not only as a person, but especially as a woman in technology.
Favorite and/or most challenging courses you took to prepare for your degrees? Why?
My most challenging course was probably my first Calculus class my freshman year. I believe this was the most challenging because it was a massive shift into a strenuous, academic, collegiate atmosphere. I would have to say my favorite class was the required Public Speaking for Engineers class. Engineers are a geeky lot and have rightfully earned a reputation of being able to speak well to a piece of technology, but not so well to a group of people. Stanford recognized the necessity of their engineers being able to communicate effectively and thus require all their engineering students to take Public Speaking. For me, however, the world is my stage. A chance to perform around something I enjoy? GAME. ON!!
How would you describe your work?
As a Marketing Operations consultant, I act as the glue and the translator between people, processes and technology. Generally, I help figure out who are the best people to do the job, what is the best technology for those people to use to do the job and what are the best steps those people should do with the technology to get the job done. I spend a lot of time asking questions, watching, and learning. It’s like a big puzzle. I get some old pieces, then I add some new pieces, rearrange them and make the puzzle better! The goal is to make everyone and their work better, smarter and faster.
What does it mean for you to be a scientist?
As a scientist, we have the opportunity to learn from experience then apply new ideas to move people, technology and the world around us forward. And coming up with new, creative ways to handle a problem is fun!
You cheered for the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves for six years altogether. How did you end up cheering for those two teams, and what made you decide to try out to be a professional cheerleader?
I was a cheerleader in middle school and high school and was a dancer in College at Stanford. (Stanford Dollie!) I also did musical theater, but recognized that I loved practicing and performing…and the problem with theater is that you only get a couple performances and then you are done! With cheerleading, you get a whole season of performances!! I was literally pondering what to do during my senior year when I came across an ad in the paper for auditions for the Warrior Girls and it was like a light bulb going off, of course!! Then after I graduated from business school, I moved to Minneapolis with my then fiancé, now husband. I didn’t know a single person there whereas he was the big man on campus, being the former University of Minnesota quarterback. I thought, what better way to get out into my new city, meet new people and do something I love? I was the perfect fit for me to get my new life started there.
How did the qualities that make you a great cheerleader benefit you in your science career or studies?
As a professional cheerleader, you are comfortable in front of large audiences, meeting new people, engaging in conversations and generally just being prepared to handle some crazy circumstances. In my career, it is also imperative to be able to communicate with different types and different levels of organizational members. I do a lot of presenting to various audiences so being used to being in the spotlight and being comfortable there is key.
There are stereotypes about cheerleaders in our society that make it seem unlikely that a cheerleader could be a scientist. Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about cheerleaders [or scientists]?
I LOVE breaking down stereotypes! The look of shock on people’s faces is priceless. While cheering at Minnesota, I was working full-time as an Information Technology Consultant for Deloitte. Our office was located in Minneapolis, so our firm had season tickets to the games. There was one particular game where one of our senior consultants had brought a client to the game. Before the game started and our dance team was on the floor, my co-worker called me over. I came over to the firm’s seats and he introduced me only by my name to the client, we shook hands and even took a picture. The next day at work, I had the opportunity to present to this client. I delivered a systems selection process presentation to him and his co-workers as he sat flabbergasted and mouth agape almost the entire time. The look on his face when I walked in to present, all dressed up in my black double-breasted suit was priceless. I’ll never forget it. By the way, we got the engagement for the system selection work.
Best cheerleading experience?
Best cheerleading experience was getting to sit on the floor courtside and watch Michael Jordan play. The man is simply an amazing athlete. Not many people get the chance to see him play that up close and personal and it was extremely memorable.
Best science-related experience?
One summer, I worked as programming technical support at Kaleida Labs, a joint venture between Apple and IBM back in the 90’s. I spent many hours and hours on the phone with a particular customer helping him through problems, suggesting solutions, bug hunting, etc. I was 22 at the time, plus I look extremely young for my age. A user conference came around where this user was going to attend so we agreed to meet face to face. When I introduced myself to this 30-something season development professional, I was met with stunned silence. His first words he could muster were “You look nothing like I imagined you would be.” Being a black female in technology is rare, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you? If so, to what and why? If not, why not?
Absolutely not. Technology, I feel, is one of the few fields that are less bound by deeply entrenched stereotypes. Because technology is moving and changing so quickly, bright, INCREDIBLE minds come from everywhere. Technology means new, bleeding edge, on the cusp….. 20 years of working with one particular area/genre/language isn’t necessarily more attractive than a technologist who is current on the latest and greatest innovations. In technology you have to be continually learning to stay relevant…that gives everyone a fair fighting chance.
What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Learn how to LEARN! Everything changes, you need to be able to adapt. What you master today will be deprecated tomorrow. If you figure out what works for YOU in terms of learning and applying what you learn, there is no stopping you. Also, do what you enjoy. Find out what you like and find a way to make that part of your everyday living!
What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I’ve represented the United States of America as a member of Team USA for the International Triathlon Union Long Course World Championships…twice!
Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
Living in Austin, there are no professional teams to cheer for, so I decided to get into Triathlon instead for my exercise outlet. I did one sprint triathlon, in 1994…and now, I’m a FOUR time Ironman Finisher! I also qualified and ran the Boston Marathon twice! And to quench my passion for dance and performance, I am the director and choreographer for the River Place Student Theater. With over 80 kids in the cast (serving grades Kindergarten – 5th grade), we’ve put on several amazing productions in our community including Beauty and the Beast, Guys and Dolls, Willy Wonka and Mulan! I’d still love to be able to put my own dancing shoes and perform….maybe I’ll figure out a way to make that happen again soon.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now, I’m focused on volunteering in my community and supporting all the activities that my sons are involved in. I’m the Cheer Coordinator for Central Texas Pop Warner as well as the Cheer Coordinator and Marketing Communications Director for my local Pop Warner association, Four Points Pop Warner. I will also be coaching a cheer team again this fall. I’m the Vice President of the Riverplace Rapids Swim Team and the Director/Choreographer for Riverplace Student Theater. Additionally, I will be implementing for the second year, my Viper Summer Fitness Challenge where I organize local businesses to donate money and prizes for participants who do the Presidential Fitness Challenge through the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative! It’s a great way to keep kids active over the summer…and get my cheerleaders in shape for the fall!!
Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
I think it is important to show the girls that you can be a geek and be cool at the same time! Science can be a great equalizer. And there is no shame in wanting to be both. It’s a unique opportunity to balance both sides of your brain (and your heart). Because there aren’t very many of us with this skill set, we are a valuable resource in the workforce!