Meet Alyson: TN Titans cheerleader-turned-biologist and chemist

You know the drill. We introduce you to some rockin’ pro cheerleader-turned-scientist to help shake up stereotypes and inspire young women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Today we introduce Alyson, a TN Titans cheerleader who has bachelors degrees in biology and chemistry. She hopes more girls will show their inner geekness! If you’re in Washington, D.C. for the USA Science and Engineering Festival 10/23-24, stop by the Science Cheerleader exhibit and meet Alyson and nine other pro cheerleaders-turned-scientists and engineers. They’ll be performing science-themed routines and talking to festival-goers about…careers in science and engineering of course!

S.C.: Alyson, Please tell us when/how you first became interested in science.
Alyson: Science is often described as the study of the natural world and how it works. It is very interesting because the subject is so broad and many areas can be studied—it can range from observing plants to operating on a human brain. As a child I was always curious and wondered how things worked. I would explore nature and observe all the plants and animals around me to figure out how they lived. As I got older, I became very interested in my father’s profession—a physician. I would ask him questions about the human body, what caused diseases, and how to cure illnesses. All my questions needed answers so I often snuck to my father’s bookshelf and read his medical books. My father saw my ambition for medicine so he brought me to work with him several times to see how he worked daily in the medical field. It was all so fascinating to me and from that point forward, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field.

S.C.: What degree are you pursuing or have you earned?
Alyson: I just graduated from Belmont University in May 2010 with a Bachelors of Science in biology and chemistry. I am currently waiting for acceptance into medical school to earn a degree as a Medical Doctor.

S.C.: Pretty exciting! What do you do while you wait for that to happen?
Alyson: My title right now would be science graduate and student. After graduation I have been preparing my application to medical school, studying for the MCAT, and working with various physicians around the area. Hopefully next year my title can be medical student.

S.C.: We’ll be rooting for you. Which team did you cheer for and when?

Alyson: I started cheering for the Tennessee Titans in 2008 while I was an undergraduate at Belmont University. Upon graduation, I decided to try out for the team one last time while I wait for acceptance into medical school next year.

S.C.: Which came first: your interest in cheerleading or your interest in science?

Alyson: My interest in dance and science actually started around the same time. I took my first dance class at the age of 4 following my older sister’s footsteps (she’s also a TN Titans cheerleader-turned-scientist!). After that first experience in the studio I knew that dance was for me. I continued to take studio classes for 15 years and was on my high school dance team for four years. When I went to college I missed dance so much that I tried out for Titans cheerleading and have been a part of the team ever since. At this same age, I became interested in science. While my passion for dance grew, my enthusiasm for science flourished in the same manner.

S.C.: Do you feel your work as a professional cheerleader helped or hindered your career? (please elaborate)

Alyson: I think there is a balance between both. With all of the appearances I have the opportunity to do; I meet so many interesting people who work in a science setting. Over the years I have established relationships and made connections with people in science that I probably would not have otherwise. At the same time, people’s perception of cheerleaders is not great, so when people find out I am a professional cheerleader, I have to work that much harder to be taken seriously and be respected as a scientist.

S.C.: 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?
Alyson: Do what you love to do and follow your dreams. Often young girls feel that they have to choose between science and dance but it is possible to do both. If the passion is there then great things can happen. Also people really appreciate a well-rounded individual so don’t let the beauty be afraid to show some inner geek!

S.C.: Nice! How did your fellow cheerleaders accept your interest in science?
Alyson: The women that I cheer with are so supportive and encouraging. I am so blessed to be surrounded by such amazing career driven women.

S.C.: Is there advice you would give your former 10-12-year-old self, now that you have the benefit of hindsight?
Alyson: If I could talk to my former 10-12 year old self I would just tell her to keep following her dreams and do what she loves to do.

S.C.: Can you describe a “typical day” at work or school?
Alyson: My typical day at school was always interesting because I learned something new every day. I had a variety of classes ranging from history to pharmacology—I even took dance classes! School was so much fun because I could sit in biochemistry in the morning and then fulfill another passion in the studio later that day.

S.C.: What would most people find surprising about your field of interest?
Alyson: Most people are surprised at how much hard work and studying is required to succeed in a science related field, especially pre-med. After someone takes a science class they ask me how I have time to be a science major and cheer at the same time.

S.C.: Best cheerleading experience?
Alyson: I have had so many great experiences on and off the field. The first time I danced at an NFL game was unforgettable, and the many community appearances I have been a part of have touched my soul. However, one experience that stands out is when I traveled to Mexico City, Mexico last season. It was so exhilarating to see how many fans the NFL and Titans Organization have outside of the U.S. During my time there, I attended many appearances and performed for hundreds of fans.

S.C.: Favorite and least favorite courses you took to prepare for your work?
Alyson: I really enjoyed all of my science courses but my favorites would have to be pharmacology and organic chemistry. My least favorite course was physics.

S.C.: More exhilarating: positive experimental results or nailing a cheer move?
Alyson: This is a tough one but I’d have to say getting positive experimental results. You can practice a dance move until it’s perfect, but sometimes you can spend all day in a lab doing one experiment; so, it is very exhilarating when you get the results you are looking for.

S.C.: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Alyson: Just make sure to follow your dreams and keep on doing what you love!