Meet Heather: Fmr Bengals cheerleader, Masters from Yale (’11)

Meet Heather, who holds several degrees and is currently wrapping up her Masters in Public Health from Yale University.

She used to cheer for the Cincinnati Bengals (our first Bengals gal!). This month, you’ll find her on the cover of the Journal of Dental Education (the premier journal for dental educators)!

SciCheer: Heather, what turned you on to science and when?

Heather: I have enjoyed life science for as long as I can remember. From cells to organ systems, the anatomy and physiology of the human body is amazing.

SciCheer: Please tell us about your degrees.

Heather: I have a B.A. in Psychology from Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, 2000;
DDS -The Ohio State University College of Dentistry, Columbus, OH, 2008;
General Practice Residency certificate- Miami Valley Hospital, Dayton, OH 2009;
MPH in progress- Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, 2011

SciCheer: Holy cow… that’s awesome. Let’s break this down. Tell me about your favorite and/or least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degrees.

Heather: My favorite courses were ALL my dental clinical courses! I enjoy working with my hands and treating patients. My least favorite courses…I had some extremely challenging courses along the way, however, looking back, they all have contributed greatly to my educational experience.

SciCheer: A diplomat, I see….Ok, let’s talk about your “other” life. How long did cheer for the Bengals?

Heather: I cheered for the Cincinnati Bengals during the 2000-2001 and 2002-2003 football seasons. I also cheered for the Cincinnati Swarm which was an AFL team.

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

Heather: My interest in science came first. I was pretty shy as a child. When I discovered dance and cheerleading, it was amazing how much it brought out my personality and boosted my confidence. I never imagined I would be performing as an NFL cheerleader in front of 65,000+ fans!

SciCheer: It’s pretty thrilling, isn’t it? Can you describe a typical day for you as a procheerleader?

Heather: I had an extremely rigorous schedule when I was cheering. At the time, I was a full-time student completing my requirements for dental school. After attending a full day of classes I would study and then attend practice from 7 to 10 pm. Sometimes I would run after practice and then complete any additional homework/reading for the following day. Then I would wake up and do it again. On the weekends I participated in various charity activities with the team. By managing my time wisely I was able to maintain a 4.00 GPA and I was in the best shape of my life.

SciCheer: It definitely creates balance. So, did you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences? (Were you taken seriously?)

Heather: I never let stereotypes bother me. All the cheearleding/dance teams I have been a part of were composed of intelligent, beautiful and athletic women. I was taken seriously because I presented myself in a positive fashion and remained involved in leadership and community activities.

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

Heather: Attending professional school was always my ultimate goal. I met some of my current best friends on the squad and everyone was supportive of my decision to go to dental school.

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

Heather: The most wonderful thing of all is you don’t have to choose. I would encourage youngsters to not only study hard, but to participate in activities they enjoy. If that involves beauty, go for it and dream big!

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

Heather: 1. “Let the people you love know that you love them. ” 2. “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” 3. “With God, all things are possible.”

SciCheer: What are your plans for the future?

Heather: Once I complete my Masters, Public Health, I plan to become board certified in Dental Public Health. My future career goals include working as director of a dental public health program, clinic, or agency, teaching at the university level and being an advocate for dental public health and policy. I plan to do my part to increase access and provide dental care to the under-served.

SciCheer: Terrific. Best cheerleading experience?

Heather: Trip to Ft. Hood to visit the troops. We had a chance to sign autographs and thank the troops personally for the sacrifices they make in order to serve our country.

SciCheer: Best science-related experience?

Heather: Mission trip to Choluteca, Honduras to provide free dental care. Patients lined up and waited for hours to see us. Even though it was 100 degrees and we worked long hours, it was worth it. The patients were so grateful for their care and it was rewarding to be able to get them out of pain, provide oral health education and basic medical care.

SciCheer: Doesn’t get much better than that. GOOOO Heather!