Meet Erica: 49ers cheerleader and a software engineer

In our continuing effort to playfully challenge stereotypes–and inspire young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, math, and health–I, Dr. John, would like to introduce you to Erica, a San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush cheerleader and a software engineer with a masters in Instructional Technology.

In between nailing double pirouettes, Erica works as an Instructional Designer for online classes for graduate students. As distributed e-learning becomes more and more common, it’s great to know that multi-talented women like Erica are working hard to improve online education and training.

I recently had a chance to ask Erica a few questions about her passion for engineering, the challenges of balancing two different worlds, and her future ambitions. Thanks to Erika and the 49ers Gold Rush for spending some with ScienceCheerleader!

Erica, what experience turned you on to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers?

I went to a Math, Science, and Technology High school where I could take programming and advanced math classes. Math was my favorite subject but wasn’t my best. I asked one of my teachers if I could be an engineer if math wasn’t my best subject — he said no. From then one I was determined to prove him wrong, which I did.

Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream associated with beauty or physique (like cheerleading) and pursuing a science and engineering career usually associated with, well, geeks?

I think you experience the best of both worlds when you pursue both STEM careers and beauty/physique-centered activities. I am constantly challenged by both, but one is a mental challenge and the other a physical challenge.

How did your fellow cheerleaders accept your interest in engineering?

My fellow cheerleaders accept my interest in engineering. I don’t think they know how much I’m into it. It’s funny because they find what I do to be amazing and challenging when I think of them as just as smart as me and able to do it just as easily. We all find qualities in each other that we wish we had.

Is there advice you would give your former 10-12-year-old self, now that you have the benefit of hindsight?

If there were advice I could give my former 10 year-old-self it would be to accept my talent and not follow the crowd. I was in advanced math and science class throughout elementary and middle school. When I entered middle school, I wanted to be in classes with my friends so I complained to my mom that I didn’t understand my teachers and the work was too hard. She eventually pulled me out of the advanced classes. I was taking Pre Calculus and Physics in 6th grade.

Eric-49ers-Gold-RushCan you describe a “typical day” at work?

I usually come in and check emails. After emails I work on the Xserve for about 3 hours. I have lunch and watch tourist out on the Pier for about an hour. The rest of my day is working with instructors to design online classes for graduate students.

What are your plans for the future?

In the future, I would like to get my PhD in Instructional Design and become a college professor.

Best cheerleading experience?

My second best cheerleading experience is when I made the Gold Rush finals. My best cheerleading experience is when I actually made Gold Rush. I couldn’t wait to tell my family and especially my Dad who was the most excited.

Favorite and least favorite courses you took to prepare for your work?

My favorite courses were Calculus, Physics, and Probability and Statistics. I liked these courses because I could teach myself. Also, these were the only courses where I could concentrate and listen to music at the same time.

My least favorite course was Differential Equations, hands down. Thinking of Laplace Transform of F(s) = f(t) just makes my skin crawl. I hated it because I wanted to get it so bad but instead I struggled with it.

More exhilarating: positive experimental results or nailing a cheer move?

I am always excited when I nail a double pirouette. Often times I sneak to the bathroom while at work and practice them. Actually, as I am responding to these questions, I took a break to go and practice, ha-ha.