Meet Julia, our newest Science Cheerleader, who’s also a rookie Washington Wizards (NBA) cheerleader with a B.S. in Biology (Marine Biology Concentration) from Duke and a Masters in Environmental Science and Management from UC Santa Barbara. She’s also a budding science journalist.
Julia and three other current Wizards cheerleaders pursuing science, technology, engineering or math careers, will join dozens of other Science Cheerleaders at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, 4/27-29. Wherever you are on 4/27 at 1:30 ET, you can join in our Big Cheer for Science! Sign up, here.
SciCheer: Hi Julia! How did you become interested in science?
Julia: I credit my parents for instilling a love of knowledge and discovery in me at a very young age. My dad is a Chemical Engineering professor and my mom is a 4th grade teacher. One of my earliest memories of “physics in action” is my dad randomly pulling me into the kitchen as he washed dishes to show me how a pinwheel spins slower in a stream of water when nearer to the spout than at the bottom of the stream. Gravity, I learned was making the water speed up as it fell.
My love of marine biology most definitely stems from my childhood experiences poking at sea creatures in tide pools by my grandparents’ house in southern California. I still love feeling sea anemone tentacles grasping at my fingertips. It was on a family trip to Sea World San Diego during middle school that made me realize I wanted to study Marine Biology.
SciCheer: Cool! Way to work towards that goal. Tell us more about your degrees.
Julia: I have two degrees. I graduated in 2007 with B.S. in Biology with a Marine Biology Concentration from Duke University, and got my Masters in Environmental Science and Management from UC Santa Barbara in 2009. I also got a dance and psych minor when I was at Duke.
SciCheer: Did you have a favorite class?
Julia: Some of my favorite courses where on marine mammals and aquatic physiology, but I really took a liking to my Marine Invertebrate Zoology course. It was fascinating to see how minute creatures like coral, sea stars, and jellyfish have evolved. It also didn’t hurt that we got to keep our own aquarium of coral, mantas shrimp, and sea anemones at our desks. You’d be amazed at what you can learn from creatures by just taking the time to look at them closely…
Another one of my favorite courses at Duke was one on primatology. Twice a week my classmates and I would travel to Duke’s primate center to study the largest lemur population in the world outside of Madagascar. Being able to monitor these amazing animals for a semester really gave me an appreciation for how remarkably similar they are to humans and how easily humans can negatively impact their populations.
SciCheer: So, why did you become a professional cheerleader?
Julia: This is my first year with the Washington Wizards. I tried out because I really missed dancing and having a performance outlet and because I LOVE basketball. I did ballet growing up and even went to ABT and Joffrey summer intensives in high school. Also, I performed with Duke’s dance team “The Dancing Devils” in undergrad in addition to getting a dance minor. When I finally settled down with a solid job in DC, I began to realize dance was something I could do again if I put my mind to it and the Wizard Girls team was the perfect fit for me.
SciCheer: Which came first? Your interest in science or cheerleading?
Julia: I’ve been really fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to pursue both passions at the same time throughout life. When you think about it, science and dance require a lot of similar things… dedication, ability to think creatively, focus, and good time management skills.
SciCheer: Please describe a typical day at work for you.
Julia: This is where things get interesting. After my first semester in grad school, I realized I didn’t want to pursue an academic science career but instead discovered I wanted to pursue science journalism. While earning my Master’s, I took up internships with CNN, a documentary film company headed by Jean-Michel Cousteau, and a research magazine called Miller-McCune. Now I am learning the ins and outs of the broadcast journalism world as a production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
On a usual day, I am part of a production team creating a “day of” segment for our national news broadcast. Topics could range from the rising conflict with Iran to the Presidential Campaign to a new study on Breast Cancer treatments. I help find video for the pieces, log press conferences, conduct interviews, and assist the editor with putting everything together in time for “air”.
When it comes to balancing my work and cheerleading commitments, it’s all about flexibility and time management. I start my day job by 9:00 am and get home around 9:00 pm on days I have rehearsals with the Wizards.
SciCheer Best thing about your career?
Julia: It doesn’t happen every day in my current job, but I love when I am able to work on science stories, both for our broadcast or our website. Just yesterday for example, I was help to produce an on-air interview on a new study on sea level rise, and in the past I’ve written articles on things like the science behind snowflake formation. I really love the idea of taking a complicated scientific discovery and translating it for the public in a creative manner.
SciCheer: Do you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences?
Julia: I worked at PBS before I became a cheerleader, so I feel fortunate that my coworkers and boss already knew me as what I’d to think is a smart and responsible individual. I get the sense that people think its really cool that I lead this “double life”. Science journalist by day, cheerleader by night.
SciCheer: Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream and following another?
Julia: First thing first, you don’t have to choose. Pursuing things that interest you and that you are good at will always make you feel good about yourself. Choosing to do things that others think are “cool” won’t fulfill in the long term because you’ll feel like you are living a lie. In the end people respect you more when you are unique and true to yourself.
SciCheer: What are your plans for the future?
Julia: I want to transition back into the science beat again soon. As I told the Wizards earlier in the year, I want to be a female version of a mix between David Attenborough and Steve Irwin.
SciCheer: Best cheerleading experience?
Julia: I love all of it, but there’s nothing quite like running onto the court and dancing your heart out for the fans. I also had a fabulous time last weekend when the Wizard Girls hosted a dance clinic for young dancers in the DC area. Helping to foster a love for dance in kids is really rewarding.
SciCheer: Best science-related experience?
Julia: When I was an intern at CNN, I was able to scuba dive in the Georgia Aquarium’s whale shark exhibit as part of a blog and podcast video. Being that close to sharks the size of buses, much less hammerheads and groupers, was inspiring. I’d give anything to be able to travel the world one day telling stories about the amazing creatures we share this planet with.
SciCheer: What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
Julia: Thanks to my dad, I have an incredibly cheesy sense of humor (puns are my jam!).
SciCheer: Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
Julia: I would love to help break down the stereotypes that go hand in hand with being a cheerleader. We’re more than just “pretty girls” because we’re smart, hard workers, doing unique things with our lives outside of cheerleading. If I can help inspire young women to go into the sciences, I would feel very privileged. We need more women scientists and engineers out in the world!