Meet Bristen: Atlanta Falcons cheerleader and biologist

In our last interview, we met Wendy, one of eight Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering or math. Let’s meet one of the others: Bristen!

SciCheer: Hey, Bristen! I understand you have a biology degree from the University of Georgia and are taking post baccalaureate classes at Georgia  State while you apply for graduate schools to be a Physicians Assistant. Very cool. I want to hear more about that but for now, can you tell me what turned you on to science?

Bristen: I have always leaned towards the sciences, but had no idea what I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I shadowed a veterinarian that I realized that I needed to be in the sciences. I loved the atmosphere and the work that they were doing and realizing this helped me to set my goals and decide what I wanted to do.

SciCheer: Can you tell us about some of your favorite and least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degree?

Bristen: My favorite courses were Genetics and Animal Behavior. Everything I learned was so interesting! Even though I definitely had to work hard in the classes, they were well worth the work. My least favorite course was Cell Biology. I couldn’t seem to grasp the concepts at first. It seemed to be a bunch of letters that made something happen to some other letters… I just couldn’t get it! I needed the class to graduate, so I worked hard and managed to pass the course. Hooray for hard work!

SciCheer: How long have you been cheering for the Falcons?

Bristen: This is my first year cheering for the Falcons, and it has been such a wonderful and exciting addition to my life. I love it!

SciCheer: Which came first? Your interest in science or cheerleading/dancing?

Bristen: I have always been a dancer (I started dancing when I was only two years old!), so that has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My interest in science developed later. I always liked it a lot, but I liked all subjects when I was growing up! I was a complete bookworm! I really started to be interested in science once I started taking classes in college that were more specialized. They showed me the intricacies of the subject, and I found them fascinating.

SciCheer: Can you describe a typical day (at work, then cheering…please elaborate)?

Bristen: I am currently taking postbaccalaureate classes at Georgia State and working part-time. My day usually consists of going to work or class, coming home and getting some food, heading to the gym for an hour or two, and working on my applications to Physician’s Assistant school. On every Tuesday and Thursday night I head to cheer practice where I get to do my favorite thing — dance!

SciCheer: Did you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies
or professional experiences? (Were you taken seriously?)

Bristen: Stereotypes have not hindered my professional experiences or my studies. In fact it has helped! It teaches you to schedule yourself, and it shows professionals that you are a person with drive and determination. To get to this level you have to have a good work ethic, and that is evident to everyone you meet and in everything you do.

SciCheer: How did your fellow cheerleaders accept your interest in science?

Bristen: Everyone on the team is exceptional, so it came as no surprise to them that I love science and plan to base my career on  that love. Many of them share the very same goals and interests.

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

Bristen: The advice I would give is that you do not have to be only one person. It actually makes you more interesting to have the dynamic of multiple interests and talents. It is completely possible to follow both dreams, and doing so will make you happier in the long run. No regrets!

SciCheer: Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?

Bristen: I would give my 12-year-old self the same advice my father has given me my entire life: “Follow your heart.” This means that it does not matter what others think about your or pressure you to do. All that matters is what you feel is right in your heart. It’s the best way to be happy with yourself and your life.

SciCheer: What are your plans for the future?

Bristen: I plan to get into a great Physician’s Assistant school then work for a dermatologist. I will keep dancing and cheering for as long as I can, too. Who knows what else is in my future? But I know I’m excited about it!

SciCheer: Best cheerleading experience?

Bristen: My best cheerleading experience was my very first regular season game. We trotted out onto the field to do the player tunnel, and the entire stadium was astonishingly alive. There were flags waving, people jumping and screaming, and all I could think was WOW. I felt so small and so big at the same time. I had to remind myself to close my hanging jaw and shake my pom poms. Just wow.

SciCheer: Best science-related experience?

Bristen: My best science-related experience was taking my Intensive Lab course in Australia. It was an Animal Behavior Lab, so I had the opportunity to pet koalas and kangaroos and study them too! Follow science…it’ll  take you on amazing adventures.