Lindsey: NFL Cheerleader, Chemical Engineer, Co-Chair of Merck Women’s Network

Greetings, SciCheer readers! Please welcome Lindsey, a Carolina Panthers Science Cheerleader who’s pursuing an active life and career as a chemical engineer. She’s also a big fan of bustin’ down cheerleader stereotypes, so she fits in very nicely. Read on!

Why engineering?
I really enjoy talking about engineering with others, especially young women, because I was one of those students who had never heard of engineering until someone told me I should look into it. When trying to decide on a college major during my junior year of high school, a teacher suggested chemical engineering because her son was studying that very thing. I always enjoyed math and science, and it seemed to be a perfect fit. What I love is that chemical engineering exposes you to all kinds of careers: making medicines, developing new technology, designing new materials, and even fashion! I knew that I couldn’t get bored!

What is your degree in and from where?
My degree is in Chemical Engineering from Oregon State University- GO BEAVERS!

Favorite and/or least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degree? Why?
I enjoyed ALL of my courses! There is so much out there to learn, and I love taking in new information even when it has nothing to do with my degree. I absolutely loved all of my math courses because there is always a definitive end (I think that’s my OCD kicking in). I also enjoyed my biomedical engineering classes. It is amazing what science can do to save lives- we learned about how engineering can be applied to medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and prosthetics.

You are Co-Chair of the Merck Women’s Network. What does that organization do?
The Merck Women’s Network (MWN) works to retain our talented female employees through personal and professional development, promotes cultural awareness, and partners with and supports business initiatives relevant to women. At our site I work with a team of amazing people–both men and women–to fulfill this mission. One of the best parts of MWN is the friendship and camaraderie between the women on site. It is important to surround yourself with people who support you. My favorite site initiative is working with the American Heart Association to promote a healthy and active lifestyle because heart disease is the number one killer of women. We give out heart-healthy recipe books and even had a Zumba instructor give a class on site! I also enjoy mentoring third graders at the local elementary school. I think it is important to give back and do the same for someone else.

Best part of your day job?
Knowing that I am saving lives! Each day I help send vaccines around the world and that is the most rewarding feeling. I also work with the most amazing people, who I continue to learn from each day! The old stereotype of what an engineer is doesn’t exist in my group!

You cheer for the Carolina Panthers. How long have you cheered for them, and why did you try out to be a professional cheerleader.
This is my rookie season on the TopCats and it has been an AMAZING experience. I originally auditioned for the team because I wanted to continue dancing (I danced on my college dance team) and because I love football (who doesn’t want to be that close to the action?!). However this past year has been about so much more than dance. I have made 24 new friends who are like sisters to me and I would do anything for them. I have met people that have touched my heart and changed my life (see best cheerleading experience below). I get the best seat in the house to watch the best team in the NFL.

Which came first, your interest in engineering or cheerleading?
I would say cheerleading, but I was an engineer at a young age and I didn’t even know it! I didn’t have Barbies like the other girls. Growing up I played with trains and Legos. I loved those science kits you can buy at the toy store although I can’t say my parents loved the messes I made while trying to make “goop”. I started dancing when I was about 4 and it has always been my biggest passion. I also played soccer, volleyball, and basketball, but dance always came first. I practically lived in the dance studio through high school, and cheered on my school’s squad. I’ve always been very busy. I’m not really sure what I would do with myself if I had more time to sit around!

Can you describe a typical day?
A typical day starts off very early! I wake up at 5 a.m. to get a good workout in. I get to work a few hours later, and never without a coffee in hand. As an automation engineer, my job is to continually support and optimize the process with regard to the automated systems. I love my job because I get to work hands-on with a lot various automated systems. I spend a lot of time figuring out how to make a piece of equipment or a system do what I want it to do through code development.If I have practice, I need to leave work early to meet my carpool for the 2 hour drive to Charlotte. When I’m not in Charlotte, I enjoy quality time with my friends and my husband.

Do you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your career?
I have been told more times than I can remember that I couldn’t be an engineer because I don’t fit the mold, but what is the mold supposed to look like? On this website alone are amazing women that have thriving careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and there are so many more women like us out there, even future STEM professionals! I also can’t believe that some people still believe in some of the cheerleading stereotypes. Being a professional cheerleader has taught me to be poised and confident, improved my leadership skills, and has enhanced my time management skills.

Best cheerleading experience?
This year we worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to make the day of a special little girl named Isabella Santos. My teammates and I spent the day with Isabella while she was an honorary TopCat. Isabella may be suffering from a rare form of cancer, but she was so brave, uplifting, and giving. She brought joy to our locker room and we still have her picture up. She inspired me and I write to her every week.

Best engineering-related experience?
I have gotten to travel to Germany to work on a robot and work with a team to build a facility from the ground up, but my favorite experiences are working with my colleagues in the community. A group of us mentor at the local elementary school where we get to remind kids about the importance of education and how science can lead to a career. We also have worked with organizations such as Operation Christmas Child where we helped pack shoe boxes of toys and goodies to be shipped to third-world countries.

If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you? If so, to what and why? If not, why not?
I would not change my degree! What I love about being a chemical engineer is that it is virtually impossible to get bored. An engineering degree can be used to design buildings, make life-saving devices, or design better materials for shoes. What I love about STEM is that it applies to EVERYTHING!

Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream and another?
Why do you have to decide between two things? There are so many benefits to following your dreams in cheerleading or other sports and activities and pursuing a career in STEM. You become a well-rounded individual if you are able to dedicate yourself to a rigorous schedule of school and practices. It will be hard to manage both, but you will have a diverse group of friends and you will develop a wide set of skills. There were many times when I had to choose between going out with friends and studying for an exam. There were times when it was hard to go to school all day and practice all night and I wanted to quit. Just remember why you are doing these things and do what makes you happy.

Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
I remember that I used to hide my “inner geek.” My advice is to never pretend to be dumb because you are worried others won’t like you otherwise. There are people out there who will make you feel bad because you are successful at more than one thing (ex. cheerleading and math). This is only because they are intimidated by your potential success.

What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I may be part of the movement of paving the way for women into a so-called “Man’s World,” but I am very old fashioned! I do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping in our home. I love planning meals for the week and making sure there is a nice dinner and a clean home to come home to each night. I have never even touched a lawn mower! I am proud to say I try to do it all–work, cheer, cook, and take care the house. I couldn’t do it without the support of my husband of course! Being from the Northwest, I am also an outdoor adventurer. I love to hike, snowshoe, camp, water-ski, and anything else outdoors. Another interesting fact is that I LOVE infomercials!

Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
It is an honor to be a Science Cheerleader! Both science and cheerleading have brought me so much joy, and I want others to have the same experience. The Science Cheerleader is a wonderful opportunity to promote STEM, cheerleading, and transform the perception of science and cheerleading in our country.

  • #1 PANTHERS FAN

    It’s really amazing you find time to balance being an engineer and a professional cheerleader.  BTW, way to bust down all of the cheerleader stereotypes!!

  • Susan Rucker

    You go girl!!!!  You make your Momma proud! 

  • Dansted

    I was once a cheerleader but now teach biology at Southern Lee High School in Sanford. I’m always preaching and teaching that science is the way to go.    I’d love to have you give my class a cheer for science !!!!!!!!  It might give them that extra push!!

  • Wait, wait. Maybe YOUR class should do a cheer tied to biology?! Think, in the fall, they’d be interested in doing a cheer (we’ll choreograph it) then measuring their heart rates? In any case, thank you for your comment. You ARE a Science Cheerleader, you know?!

  • Scott Lehrman

    I recently learned that I am the science teacher’s son who was studying chemical engineering at WSU, so I just read this article. It’s always great to see women in chemical engineering, and it’s awesome that Lindsey makes time for cheerleading!

    Scott Lehrman