Sarah: Baltimore Blast Cheerleader pursuing degrees in mental health

Hey Science Cheerleader fans!  This is Megan and I’m excited to introduce you to our newest SciCheer, Sarah!  Sarah was a Chesapeake Hawkette Cheerleader and is now a Baltimore Blast Cheerleader.  Read on to learn more about her interests in mental health.

What turned you on to STEM and when?

I have always known that I wanted to make a difference in the world, but I was not sure how. After pursuing my undergraduate degree I realized that my career path was actually heading towards a science career when I started working at the American Heart Association (AHA). I helped start a program in 2011 called Recess Baltimore, to better enhance the lives of inner-city youth and teach them to become advocates for healthy living. This program is an 8-month program that incorporates a curriculum of heart healthy activities and nutrition lessons. We work with about 250 children in their recreation centers to teach them a curriculum of 10 lessons. We test the children’s knowledge at the beginning of the program and at the end of the program.

I actually ended up leaving the AHA in 2013 to pursue my Master of Science degree at Johns Hopkins University for another passion of mine, Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Two years later, I am finishing my Master’s degree and actually working back at the AHA and managing the Recess Baltimore Program. After I graduate and I am a licensed counselor, I want to marry my love for leading a healthy life and counseling. I want to open up my own private practice and work with patients who struggle with eating disorders or struggle with how to live a healthy life. Because of working with the mental health population, I became more and more interested in epidemiology, and applied for a Certificate in Mental Health Policy, Economics, and Services at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and got in! I look forward to beginning this program, and completing it in May 2017.

What’s a day on the job like for you?
I help people live healthier lives. Whether it is clinical with my mental health counseling work, or through my work at the American Heart Association (AHA) where I teach kids to be heart healthy advocates. I am constantly looking to help people through empirical data and supported evidence. I divide my time between my internship at a private practice and the AHA every week. When I am at my internship working with patients, my Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) is my go-to tool. It helps me with ensuring my patients have the correct diagnoses from the criteria that it provides me. When I am at the AHA, the program curriculum is my handy tool. Although the curriculum has been redone every year since the program’s inception, it still includes some elements from the very first curriculum that I helped create.

The goal of my work in clinical mental health counseling is to help my patients feel comfortable in their own skin, and learn to cope better with situations that they are facing. And the goal of my work at the AHA is to teach inner city youth how to live healthy lives within their means. I hope that the children that I work with want to choose healthy alternatives to fast food and are active for the recommended 60 minutes a day.

Why did you try out to be a professional cheerleader?
Since I was 10 years old on my first rec league cheerleading squad, I have always known that I wanted to be a professional cheerleader. I would watch the professional cheerleaders at sporting events, and tell my parents that one day, that would be me. After I graduated from college, I wanted to be around women who care about cheerleading as much as I do, and become part of the cheerleading sisterhood.

What does it mean for you to work in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) discipline?
Working in STEM is extremely powerful to me because I know through my work, that I am inspiring other women to pursue their dreams. It is important to me because there are less women in STEM careers, and I want to keep empowering women to never doubt themselves despite what they want to study and work in.

How do the qualities that make/made you a great cheerleader benefit you in your STEM career?
I love performing and being in front of a crowd, and I get the same feeling with my career. Even though I am only in front of my patients when counseling, I know at the end of the day I counseled to the best of my ability and was proud of my time with them. I am also a very positive teammate on the cheerleading teams I have been on/am currently on. Having a positive outlook helps immensely with working with my patients because their stories are not the easiest to handle. Being a positive person also helps me with my work at the AHA, too. Because my focus is on helping the children in the program, who might also have tough stories sometimes, with the Recess program and working with them, I can instill hope in them to make healthy choices.

How do you feel about breaking down negative stereotypes about cheerleaders?
I feel as if I am a stereotype breaker as a professional cheerleader who works in STEM. When fans ask me what I do, I get really excited to tell them that I go to Johns Hopkins University and I am studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I have had numerous times when the fan blankly stares at me, and other times when they tell me how impressed they are. However, I didn’t want to go to Johns Hopkins University because I wanted to impress people, I wanted to go there because I knew that I would get a great education, and then be able to make the most impact on my patients. After I explain what I do to fans, I make sure to say from a young age I wanted to help people, and now I get to do that everyday!

What is your best cheerleading experience?sarah1
Making the Baltimore Blast Cheerleaders this year has been my best cheerleading experience so far. I tried out in 2011, and really did not have any idea what they would be looking for. I made it to the second round and then was cut. I promised myself that I would come back when I was fully ready, and it took me until this year, when I said to myself that I was finally ready after much practice to try again, and I made the team!

What advice would you give to your 12-year old self?
My advice to my 12-year-old self would be “don’t quit.” I used to pick up hobbies and leave them because I lost interest such as tennis and horseback riding. I feel as if my hobbies would be a lot more diverse as an adult if I didn’t stop playing softball in the third grade, or quit piano lessons when I was in the 6th grade. When I am talking to children at a game or an appearance, I always tell them I love to cheer, and I ask them what they like to do for fun. Once they tell me their hobbies, I tell them to never give up. I hope one day that someone remembers me saying that to them, and doesn’t quit a hobby, even when it is tough or they seem to lose interest for a little bit!

What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I started the “I am ABLE” wristband of hope when I was 16 years old. My younger sister Hadley has cerebral palsy and I used to hate when people would make fun of her for being in a wheelchair and being different. Instead of getting angry, I created the bright orange, jelly-like wristbands to get my message across to people. One on side of the band it said “I am ABLE,” and on the other side, it said “SK. HK” for my maiden name initials and my sisters initials because I created the wristbands for her. The meaning of “I am ABLE” is everyone is ABLE to spread awareness about discrimination against the disabled, and also to treat people equally regardless of how they might look or speak. I was able to speak all over the United States on behalf of my wristbands, and all of the money I raised went to a non-profit organization called Shane’s Inspiration, who creates playground so able bodied children and disabled children can play together.