Meet Arlene: a high-tech hybrid.

Dr. John here… During Science Cheerleader’s ongoing effort to challenge stereotypes and inspire youngsters, we’ve searched the globe to find cheerleaders and athletes who are pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.  Little did I know, I spend every workday sitting right across the hall from a high-tech hybrid that has mastered the world of Internet technology and the rigors of personal physique (refer to image of ridiculously toned, bikini-wearing woman).

I’d like to introduce you to my friend and colleague, Arlene, a Google Search Appliance Analyst at the U.S Department of Defense. She manages both the business and technical aspects of the Google search engine on www.defense.gov and is my go-to person for insight on virtually anything related to the Internet (and apparently fitness as well!)

As you’ll learn in the interview below, Arlene has also spent her entire life competing in a variety of sports and cheerleading, culminating as a competitor in National Physique Committee Figure competitions.  She also shares some of her first experiences in the science and technology, and gives away her secret to getting people interested in STEM.

And now I think I need to hit the gym!

Which teams did you cheer or play for and when?

I’ve always been an avid athlete since I was very young: Little League left fielder, Pee-Wee League cheerleader in primary school; softball in Jr high school and indoor and outdoor track and cross-country running in Sr high school. Later on I was an amateur level competitor in National Physique Committee Figure competitions (think bodybuilding with less muscle bulk mixed with a swimsuit presentation).

Who or what experience turned you on to STEM careers?

My dentists, doctors, and my parents turned me on to science as a very young child. I was ill often, had very poor vision, and bad teeth. To help me understand the “why” of all these things, my parents took the time to explain everything to me with the help of books and games. This desire to learn how things work coupled with subscriptions to OMNI Magazine and National Geographic throughout most of my childhood fueled my interest in all things science.

From astronomy to chemistry – I received my first kit when I was 7 – to zoology, I could never get enough science. My biggest love was astronomy and space science, though. I had ambitions of becoming an astronaut when I grew up, but then I learned at university that my inferior vision would keep me from achieving that dream. I turned my attention to web technology and innovation instead.

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

My biggest advice: Ignore the labels and go after everything you desire. I feel very fortunate that my parents encouraged me to do whatever I wished. They never told me to choose between math and running track, or between biology and ballet dancing. In their eyes I was capable of doing it all, and so I did.

Arlene at the OfficeHow did your fellow cheerleaders/athletes accept your interest in STEM fields?

I was fortunate to have known a lot of fellow athletes with brilliant minds throughout my life so my interest in science was often shared. It was always nice to be able to discuss that day’s biology homework while running laps.

What are typical reactions you’ve received when people learn about your figure competition days?

Because I’m soooo smart [kidding. not really. yes I am.], people are either shocked or in disbelief when I tell them about my National Physique Committee figure competition days. When they see the pictures they’re still shocked, but not so disbelieving. Then when I start to explain the science behind competition training (and there’s a lot of it), they become utterly fascinated.

How do you encourage people to become more interested in STEM careers??

I always like to ask people, “Do you ever wonder WHY something is the way it is?” and provide them with all the resources I can to learn the answer to the “why”. Especially children since young ones are still discovering life. More informed = better choices.

Best athletic experience?

Placing second in my class at my final figure competition. In the four years that I competed I’d always been 4th and had busted tail switching up my training regimen to finally move up to 2nd!

Best science experience?

Getting the highest grade in my freshman biology class at university for the fruit fly DNA experiment because no one else in the class could figure how to keep their flies in their containers.

Favorite sports team and why?

Auburn Tigers football. Why? WHY?! Cut me in half and I’ll bleed orange and blue. And it’s where I went to university. WAR EAGLE!