Hi, Megan! Let’s start with the basics: what turned you on to science and when?
I was in a Health Occupations Education class in high school during my senior year when I shadowed almost every healthcare field. During the Occupational Therapy (OT) rotation I met a woman who had just had a stroke and was very depressed because of the independence she had lost. She was getting very frustrated because she couldn’t get herself dressed. The OT taught her some techniques to help her get dressed with ease. After going home and implementing some of the techniques into her morning routine she came back to her next session glowing. I knew I wanted to be an OT and have this positive impact on people’s lives.
Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Occupational Therapy Degree both from the University of Indianapolis. Favorite and/or least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degrees?
My favorite class in undergrad was Psychology of Gender because I was so interested in learning about the history of women and current issues having to do with women. My favorite class in OT school was Occupational Adaptation because it was the first time we were able to put our knowledge into practice and use techniques to help individuals achieve their independence. My least favorite classes were statistics and research because even though I like math, I liked learning about and interacting with people more.
You’ve been a practicing occupational therapist for three years. Is working in the field different from how you imagined it would be when you were in school? Are there things you wished you’d learned in school before working in the profession?
Being an OT is just how I would have imagined it being when I was in school with a few exceptions. I love meeting my patients and hearing their stories and being able to use the skills I learned in school to rehabilitate them. The one thing I wish I would have learned more about was the business side of health care and law making. Healthcare is such a huge debate in any political election and it has a huge effect on the length of care and the intensity of treatment we can give based on reimbursement. I hate this part of my job and try to give my patients the best care I can within the realm of the laws. With that being said it is VERY important to study the political candidates and exercise your right to VOTE!
What’s the most common case you handle on a regular basis?
The most common cases I see are general de-conditioning from pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and dehydration. I also treat people who have had hip and knee replacements and other orthopedic procedures/ injuries. Lastly we see some people who have been affected by stroke, cardiac conditions, brain injury, or spinal cord injuries.
Best part of your day job?
My favorite part of my day is getting to know the residents on a personal level. Most of my patients are over 70 years old and have so much knowledge to share and so many wonderful stories to share. I feel like I have so many extra grandparents who care about me and want to hear about my life and give me advice. They also love bragging to their friends and family that their therapist is a Colts Cheerleader and are always excited to tell me they looked for me on TV during the game!
Speaking of your time with the Colts, how long have you cheered for them, and why did you try out to be a professional cheerleader?
I cheered in 8th grade for women’s and men’s basketball and for football for 4 years in high school along with 2 years on my high school competition squad. I was also on my college dance team for two years. I had been away from dance for 6 years and cheerleading for 8 years and really missed performing in front of the fans. Plus I love the Indianapolis Colts and being involved in my community, so when my schedule allowed, I tried out for the Colts Cheerleaders three years ago and made the squad!
Members of the Colts cheer squad appeared at the National Science Teachers Association conference in Indianapolis last April. Did you or your colleagues participate? What did it mean to you/them to be part of that event?
Erin, Lindsey, Hannah, and I all participated in the conference! We had such a blast at the event with all of the teachers and students! We were able to dance and then be part of the world-record-breaking largest science experiment where we made snow! It was great to get to interact with the kids and show them what being a science cheerleader is about!
Which came first? Your interest in science or cheerleading?
Probably my interest in cheerleading came first. I come from a long line of cheerleaders staring with my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandmother. Almost all of my aunts and my mom were cheerleaders. Plus my dad was his high school Mascot! When I was young I wanted to be a lawyer but changed my mind in high school to become an OT.
Please describe what you do as an occupational therapist as if you were explaining this career to a 12-year-old. What tools do you use, if any? How/where do you spend most of your time? What’s the goal of your work?
I have people do different exercise and activities as well as teach them different techniques to allow them to go back home or live the best life they can after being sick for various reasons. I help them be able to take care of themselves again such as give themselves a shower/bath, dress themselves, get into and out of bed, cook, clean, and another tasks they need to do to go home safely and with the least amount of help from another person. We use weights, dressing equipment, wheelchairs, walkers, games, puzzles, worksheets, and really anything you can think of during treatment. You have to be really creative as an OT. I spend most of my time (80%) with my patients doing treatment and the rest of my time doing paperwork about their progress for the doctor and insurance companies. My number one goal as an OT is to help my patients live their lives to the fullest and be able to have the highest quality of life.
What does it mean for you to be an occupational therapist?
My career is so important to me! I really think my work is important and has a huge role in society because I am helping people to not only live a longer life but a higher quality of life. I am helping people to have more time with their family and friends.
How do the qualities that make/made you a great cheerleader benefit you in your science career?
I think my personality, stage presence, and ability to be confident in different situations as a cheerleader help me as an OT. You are constantly meeting new patients as an OT and you have to get them to trust you. I also have to make good impressions at appearances. At different appearances you might be asked to do something new and you have to be flexible. This is also true when working with patients because you always have to be on your feet because anything can happen! Lastly you must have good organizational and time management skills in both professions.
Do you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your professional experiences?
I was involved in pageants before becoming a pro-cheerleader and both activities have negative stereotypes associated with them. People think we are stuck-up, conceited, dumb, and vain. I never tell people about my extracurricular activities right away. It helps to break the negative connotations when people get to know me away from the stereotype. They learn that I am friendly and not vain (I never wear makeup to work and wear my hair in a ponytail). Once people get to know me and see I am qualified for my job they take me seriously!
Best cheerleading experience?
My best cheerleading experiences have been traveling overseas with the Colts Show Troupe. I was able to promote the NFL in Mexico City and perform for our troops in Japan. I had never even been out of the country before and it was such a rush to perform for people all over the world! I was also able to sing the National Anthem before a Colts game surrounded by my teammates. It was a memory that I will never forget. Last year I was also able to dance on the Jimmy Fallon show during his live Super Bowl special!
Best science-related experience?
My best science-related experience was working with a high school aged boy who was in a car accident that resulted in a brain injury during my internship in Occupational Therapy. When he first came to the hospital he could barely do anything but stand with help and play Tic Tac Toe. It was so fascinating. I was able to work with him and help him be able to return home and get back to normal life. It was such a rewarding experience and I still stay in touch with him on Facebook!
If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you? If so, to what and why? If not, why not?
Definitely not! I love waking up every day and going to my job! I don’t even think of it as work because it is so much fun.
What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
People are surprised to find out I am a former Miss Indiana having completed in the Miss America pageant system and that I am a Colts Cheerleader because I am so low maintenance in my everyday life. I love wearing scrubs everyday and not needing to worry about my hair and makeup. I love the look on people’s faces when they find out about the “other side” of my life. Sometimes I feel like I lead a double life.
Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
I love trying new foods and going out to eat with my family and friends. I love sushi, steak, pizza…really anything as long as I’m sharing it with loved ones. I also enjoy watch TV such as Project Runway, Big Brother, and really any reality TV show. I love going to musicals, pageants, and being outdoors too!
Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream and another?
Who says you can’t have it all?! It is wonderful to have many different interests and if you work hard and stay organized you can do it all! It is hard sometimes but everything worth having in life takes hard work. Also don’t worry about what others think! Do what makes you happy because it is YOUR life!
Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
When I was 12 I was not very confident in myself and not very popular. I didn’t try out for cheerleading when I was 12 because when I walked into the callout meeting and saw all of the beautiful girls I thought for sure I wouldn’t make it. My biggest regret in life was not even trying and giving up on my dream that first year. I will never know the outcome because I quit before I even started the process. I would tell myself to tryout and believe in myself and that I can do anything I set my mind to if I work hard and believe in myself!
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to retire from the Colts Cheerleaders this year. I’m really going to miss it, but I am excited to have some free time! I have a huge list of things I want to do such as eventually get certified in brain injury rehabilitation. I have always been fascinated by the human mind and love to work with people with brain injuries. I would love to coach middle or high school cheerleading one day and/or be a pageant coach. I also want to get married and have children and help them to achieve their dreams.
Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
I want young girls and women to know that they can be whatever their heart desires. I want them to not feed into stereotypes and write their own story. It is possible if you work hard and believe in yourself!