Hi, Teleza! Let’s jump right in—what got you interested in science?
Since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to become a pediatrician. My pediatrician was the person who inspired me. He always made medicine seem so fun! It was confirmed that I wanted to go into the sciences when I took my first Biology 101 course in high school and I enjoyed studying the human body and every biological process you could think of.
You’re pursuing a biology degree (and a chemistry minor) at Howard University and are working to be a pediatrician specializing in oncology. What got you interested in that particular career path?
I have a passion for children as well as medicine. So I said to myself, “Why not go into a field where I can fulfill both passions?” That’s when pediatrics seemed like the perfect field! I can meet and build relationships with wonderful children while practicing medicine. I also felt like majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry would be the best because I would be able to fulfill all of my course requirements. I made the decision to specialize in oncology when I took a class called Cellular Signal Transduction. This class is all about how cells communicate as well as the mutations they undergo. I learned all about how cancer forms. This inspired me to find a cure for cancer and to take care of children who have this disease.
Please describe what you expect to do as a pediatrician specializing in oncology as if you were explaining this career to a 12-year-old. What is the general flow of your work? What tools do you use, if any? How/where do you spend most of your time? What’s the goal of your work?
Oncology is the study of cancer. Cancer is a terrible disease that involves the cells of your body to grow continuously. These cells take over the body and work to survive. They are called tumors. My job will be to take care of kids that have different types of cancer by trying to get these bad cells to die. One of the tools that I would use regularly is an X-ray machine. This will help me to see exactly what part of the body these bad cells are in. Depending on where the cancer is in the body, I will then consider different ways to get rid of it. I will spend most of my time in my doctor’s office or in a hospital where sick people go. The overall goal of my work is to try to find a cure for cancer by also doing research. This also means that I will spend time in something called a laboratory. This is where scientists conduct experiments. I will be conducting different experiences to find a cure for cancer, preferably those that are common in children.
What does it mean for you to become a doctor?
Having my own practice, I will be able to build relationships with my patients. Growing up, I only went to one doctor from the day I was born until the age of 19. I had a close relationship with my pediatrician, and I admired everything he did. He had a major impact on my life. This is what I wish to do as a doctor. I want to be an idol for my patients, inspiring them to set high expectations for themselves. I live by the fact that the children are our future, and knowing that I will do everything in my power to be a positive influence for them. Being a doctor, I will have to gain trust from my patients. That means showing them that I care, being understanding, kind, and patient with them. Once my patients trust me, it will open a door for me to give them advice that will guide them to success. This is my role in society.
You’ve performed and taught a lot of different types of dance: ballet, modern, tap, jazz, and modern. Tell us a little about your dance career.
I attended the Washington School of Ballet, and performed at the Kennedy Center with Debbie Allen as well as with Author Mitchell’s dance company.
You’ve been cheering with the Washington Redskins for two years. What made you decide to you try out to be a professional cheerleader?
I have always wanted to dance on a professional level. The First Ladies of Football seemed like the perfect team. Not only do they cheer, but they are given opportunities to participate in a lot of positive charity events, which is always rewarding.
How do the qualities that make you a great cheerleader benefit you in your science studies?
In order to be a great cheerleader you must be prepared to give 100% at all times. That means a positive attitude, energy, and a smile. You also have to be good with time management. All of these attributes benefit my studies. It reminds me to approach my exams with a positive attitude. I have also learned better time management. Taking no less than 18 credits that include major science courses along with labs, I must have good planning skills to be successful.
There are stereotypes about cheerleaders in our society that make it seem unlikely that a cheerleader could be a scientist. Obviously these stereotypes are untrue, and you are a great example of that. How do you feel about breaking down negative stereotypes about cheerleaders? Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about cheerleaders [or scientists]?
It makes me so proud to be able to say that I have teammates that have degrees in the sciences and mathematics!! I have always considered myself a nonconformist, so I enjoy breaking down negative stereotypes. I face negative stereotypes about cheerleader’s every day. When someone is aware of my job as an NFL cheerleader and I tell them that I am also preparing for medical school, they look at me like I’m crazy! As if that’s something out of the norm. I have never considered myself as a person that followed the stereotypes of society, and it feels great to break them!
Best cheerleading experience?
My best experience being a member of the First Ladies of Football thus far would have to be having the opportunity to go to Africa to perform for the troops in Djibouti! I got to go snorkeling in the Red sea, and see the beautiful country of Ethiopia. It felt great to be able to take a little bit of home to the troops overseas.
Best science-related experience?
My best science experience was in the Organic chemistry lab. It was a really fun class. Although it was challenging, it was fun to be able to perform synthesis reactions and cook up organic molecules, and then see the proof of my work.
If you could rewind the clock and change your major, would you? If so, to what and why? If not, why not?
Absolutely not. A lot of my classmates ended up switching their majors because the classes were too hard. That’s what I love about science. It’s challenging and it feels even better when you overcome it. It’s no fun to overcome something that’s easy!
What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Try to achieve the impossible! Never underestimate yourself. Remember that working towards your goals will be difficult; it’s not supposed to be easy. When it gets challenging use that as motivation instead of allowing that challenge to defeat you!
What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
People usually think it’s surprising that I own a Nintendo DS and I love to play video games!
Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
I absolutely love food! My favorite food is seafood, from shrimp to crabs! I also like to horseback ride. My favorite animal is a horse. J I also enjoy watching SpongeBob, he is the cutest thing to me and is always happy no matter what!
What are your plans for the future?
Aside from becoming a doctor, I plan to travel the world. Going to Africa really inspired me to see more. I would like to see how people in other countries live and how their cultures differ from ours. I also plan to start an organization to help the youth that come from low-income families achieve their goals.
Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
I am willing to take any opportunity that I have to share my educational experience and my story with young people. I have a purpose to encourage them to overcome their challenges and goals. Being a Science Cheerleader will give me the chance to do that. I can also show them that just because you are taking interest in such a demanding subject, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and take part in other activities, even if they are stereotyped like cheerleading! I want young kids to know that it’s okay to be versatile, and that just because you’re a scientist doesn’t mean you can’t be a cheerleader and vice versa. Being afraid of stereotypes such as this will hinder you, and I have learned how to face them! This will be a great program that will allow me to inspire our future scientists and cheerleaders!