Suzanne: Former NBA Washington Wizards cheerleader, dual degrees in Math and Computer Science

Suzanne science cheerleader washington wizardsSuzanne is a cheerleader for the NBA’s Washington Wizards with dual degrees in Math and Computer Science. And, boy, does she LOVE her job(s)! You can meet Suzanne and dozens of other Science Cheerleaders at the USA Science and Engineering Festival (4/27-29) in Washington, DC! In the interim, let’s learn more about Suzanne.

SciCheer: Ok, Suzanne. What inspired you to pursue degrees in math and computer science?
Suzanne:
Until my senior year in high school, I always had to work VERY hard to understand math and make the grades, as math did not come naturally to me. I had wonderful teachers that I spent plenty of time with after school and even had a tutor for Geometry! For some reason, once I got to Calculus, things just “clicked”…derivatives and integrals just made a lot of sense all of a sudden! Even though I enjoyed calculus, when I left for college, I NEVER in a MILLION years thought I’d pursue a degree in math. Upon entering college, I continued my math courses. Since I attended a Liberal Arts school, we were required to take a couple general education courses in every subject before deciding our major. I continued in calculus and had my first math courses with Dr. Yuan-Jen Chiang. Dr. Chiang was AMAZING and her classes were always fun and SO entertaining. Dr. Chiang soon became my advisor and based on my aptitude for the material in class, encouraged me to consider mathematics as a major. During one of our classes she drew us the “Pyramid of Life”, and at the base of the pyramid was mathematics followed by engineering and the sciences, and so forth. I know math majors get poked fun of sometimes because we think the world revolves around math, but logically it does (wink, wink)! As I pursued math as my area of study, I was required to take a couple computer science courses to fulfill the major. With a little inspiration from some outstanding Comp Sci professors, I was motivated to pursue a dual degree in Math and Computer Science. My very fond and inspiring class experiences at Mary Washington turned me on to degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science.

SciCheer: Favorite and/or least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degree?
Suzanne:
Dr. Chiang’s class in Chaos Theory (e.g. The Butterfly Effect) was pretty awesome. I had to get special permission to take it as a third year student since I hadn’t taken the prerequisite (Real Analysis) yet. I also enjoyed my very last math class in my curriculum of studies: Topology. We learned using the Robert L. Moore method, which is essentially where we learn the material as self-study (read: by yourself!) and then during class present the proofs of the problem sets. Talk about pressure! I was so nervous and NEVER thought I could do this on my own. Our professor made class time highly interactive, and it was SO rewarding to look back and realize that I conquered that on my own! By far my toughest class was our Computer Architecture class. Essentially we started the semester programming in binary code (just 1’s and 0’s) and created real computer programs that were functional. That was a TOUGH class, but very rewarding.

SciCheer: Why did you try out to be a professional cheerleader?
Suzanne:
I am currently in my third season with the Washington Wizards (go WIZ!). I danced through my college years, and was encouraged to try professional cheerleading as a fantastic outlet for dance after college. Professional cheerleading is a wonderful opportunity to keep dancing and performing, but also lets you pursue your career fulltime as well.

SciCheer: What’s a typical day like?
Suzanne:
My job is incredibly demanding and challenging, so I try to optimize my time wherever and whenever possible. ExxonMobil (where I work) is an incredibly diverse company with many different and interesting things going on in all parts of the world, so I love to be as informed as possible about what the different areas of my business and other business lines are doing. I am the spend analyst for ExxonMobil’s Procurement Sourcing Center of Excellence, thus I am responsible for analysis on what we (as a corporation) are spending our money on, and where we spend it. I help our commodity owners and internal customers look for new opportunities and areas to save money. I support a tool that was developed for our team in order to make the results of our data mining much faster. The tool is written in VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) and connects to a SQL server which stores our data. I work heavily in SQL every day in order to make my job much more efficient. Whenever information is updated or the tool is enhanced, I need to change the VBA code in order to reflect those updates. My programming skills are still being used to this day! Once I have the data I need, I try to look at the data as many different ways as possible in order to seek out where those optimization opportunities might be, whether it’s in another country, a different business line, etc: This is where we do heavy analysis. The data must always tell a story, and my job is to find the story and tell it!

SciCheer: Best thing about your job?
Suzanne:
My job is very unique in that it is a combination of technical skill and analytical skill. If you can learn to be a great analyst, you will be able to apply that skill to many other areas of study. I also love that part of my job is R&D (Research & Development) focused. My team constantly works to find new and innovative ways to find and get information more efficiently, whether that is a new technical solution, or a better process. Last and certainly not least, the people I work with are one of the best parts of my job. I really enjoy all of the incredibly smart, motivated and fun people I work with. We work hard, but we also share laughs, which just makes for a fun work environment and experience. We help each other out when we’ve got a big project or are under tight deadlines, and we are also happy for each other’s successes. Fun fact: I bet you would be surprised to know how many people I work with from countries outside the United States! Argentina, Canada, Japan, Nigeria, Czech Republic, and Thailand to name a few! (And to all my Texas friends, no, I am not putting Texas down as its own country in this list!!!)

SciCheer: Do you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences? (Are you taken seriously?)
Suzanne:
I really do believe it has enhanced my career in so many ways: I meet so many different people that I might ordinarily not have a chance to interact and talk to, by dancing and performing in front of thousands, it makes those presentations to management seem quite natural and I think it also makes me an overall, well rounded individual who respects her work / life balance.

SciCheer: Do you have any STEM advice for teens and pre-teens?
Suzanne:
I couldn’t be more proud to have studied a field and pursued a career that is associated by those adorned with pocket protectors. Although Beyoncé is correct when she asks and then answers herself, “Who runs the world? GIRLS”, I am going to expand on that and tell all of the younger girls out there that Science Technology Engineering and Math girls REALLY rule the world. There isn’t anything you couldn’t do with a degree in a STEM subject. And you know what? There aren’t enough of you out there! I know it sounds cliché, but there comes a point in one’s life where it is VERY cool to be a “geek”. I personally consider myself “geek chic”…haha. People will respect you for your mind, and that is the best feeling in the world. As far as being torn between cheerleading / dancing or pursuing a career in science or engineering, I am always of the mentality that if you want it badly enough, you will make it happen. So, if you WANT to do both, I know there is a way you can make it happen! I am living proof of that. You will have to have excellent organization and time management skills, but you should never think you cannot do both. At ExxonMobil, we believe that to be truly successful in your career, you need a work life balance…I try to hold myself to this.

SciCheer: Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Suzanne:
Listen to your mother! When I look back at my childhood and teenage years, I honestly cannot remember when I was right and my mother was not. I also never thought I would ever be able to admit that, but time does funny things to one’s sense of awareness and maturity 😉 I was a good teenager, but man, I can’t believe I gave my mom such a hard time!

I would also want to tell my 12 year old self that all the work and sweat exerted in school will be so worth it. Just because something might not come “naturally” doesn’t mean it won’t come. You can work hard at something AND excel at it. Just hang in there 🙂

SciCheer: What are your plans for the future?
Suzanne
:I plan to continue my career at ExxonMobil and learn as many new things about the oil industry as possible…I am never done learning! I would also like to go to grad school (right now it’s a tossup between Math or Law School), get married and have a family one day.

SciCheer: Best cheerleading experience?
Suzanne:
Traveling to Mexico after my rookie year on the team to teach dance clinics to children in Mexico City. It was a very rewarding experience, and I am so fortunate I got the opportunity to represent both the Wizards and the NBA. The city was beautiful and everywhere you looked, people seemed like they were in love!

SciCheer: Best work experience?
Suzanne:
The best experience was receiving my offer letter and being hired by one of the best companies in the world: ExxonMobil. It was the result of many, many years of hard work and study, and it paid off!

SciCheer: What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
Suzanne:
I received two scholarships in college: one for music and one for dance.

SciCheer: If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you?
Suzanne:
Absolutely not. #1) I loved what I studied in school #2) When I started applying for internships in technical fields, it became apparent very quickly that all of these wonderful opportunities would not be possible without a degree in engineering, math or science. If I could rewind the clock, I’d almost be afraid I would have tried for a third degree, and add engineering!!! (Kidding…sort of).

SciCheer: Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
Suzanne:
I want to be a Science Cheerleader so I can encourage younger girls to consider a path of study in math or engineering. I want to help these young ladies understand that with a background in math or any of the other STEM subjects, life would be their oyster. I wish the younger generation could see how we see them: Nothing but opportunities!