Elesia: Washington Capitals cheerleader pursuing PhD in agriculture policy

Elesia NHL Washington Capitals Science Cheerleader

Elesia has pursued multiple degrees toward a career in agriculture policy, and she has plans after that! Read on and learn more. [Editor’s Note: Elesia moved from the Capials to the Redskins!]

Howdy, Elesia! What got you into science?
I have always been influenced by the STEM field. I come from a family with generations of educators. Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are full of talk about education systems, updates, and challenges of the education field. My mother made sure I stayed engaged in academics over the summer. Going to math and science enrichment camps became the norm for me in Jr. High School. My family always stressed the importance of science and math, so I was never a stranger to the subjects.

You’re in the midst of a very active and diverse academic curriculum. So far you’ve earned a Bachelors of Science in Mass Communication and a Masters of Science in Agriculture Education from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University and you’re currently in the third quarter of a doctoral program in public policy and administration with a specialization in policy analysis. Whew! How did you select this course of study?
In undergrad while pursuing my Bachelor’s degree I took a course, Food and the Global Community. This course focused on the economy of various countries and their international relations with other countries having an impact on economies. I became very interested in using agriculture to help rebuild the American economy. This was in the midst of the recession, and it made perfect sense to rebuild the economy through agriculture. I had a professor who told me if I really want to create change I have to become an expert in agriculture. She also told me change cannot be created without a change in policy. I decided to become an expert in both! Understanding the importance of agriculture to the country’s economy drove me to obtain my Master’s degree in agriculture and start a Ph.D. program focusing on policy. After the completion of my doctoral degree, I will have the expertise I need in agricultural policy to help influence and create change.

Favorite and/or most challenging courses you’ve taken so far to prepare for your degree? Why?
It is actually difficult to choose. With each degree, I have taken a course that helped further develop my interest in agriculture policy. Of course, during my undergraduate studies food and the global community was my favorite because it opened my eyes to agriculture and all the possibilities in the field. Like many people, when I thought of agriculture I thought about farm animals. Although this is an important part of agriculture, that are so many other entities. For my master’s degree, my favorite course was government policy analytical agriculture problem solving. I know, such a long title for a course, but I loved it because it tied agriculture to policy! Now, in my Ph.D. program I recently completed, finance and budget for the public sector. I loved this course because budgets play a substantial role in public funding. I know I need to have a wealth of knowledge on government funding and balances to be successful in my career.

How do you intend to use your various degrees together?
Now, this is the infamous question I am always asked! My communications degree is great because it provides me with written and oral communication skills crucial in any industry. Also, with my intent to work in government policy, it is vital that I have superior communication skills, written and oral. Communication serves as a foundation for everything I want to do. Agriculture is the specific issue I am passionate about. Much the same as a doctor that specializes in oncology or pediatrics my specialization is agriculture. Lastly, policy is how I will work within agriculture. I had a mentor tell me that every degree I receive should show a steady progression in my career: not in terms of the advancing degrees themselves but in the majors and topics of the degree. I believe my degrees show a progression of how I would like my career to flow in the future!

Cool. So what’s the best part of your studies?
The best part of my studies is understanding how I am gaining insight into a science that helped build this country and will always be a driving force for sustainability and well being of the American people. It’s awesome!

You’re a Red Rocker cheerleader for the Washington Capitals. How long have you cheered for them, and why did you try out to be a professional cheerleader?
This is my rookie year, and it has been amazing! I absolutely love my teammates! I tried out to be a professional cheerleader because I love dancing and performing. I started taking dance class when I was 3 years old and haven’t stopped since. I missed dancing on a team from undergrad and professional cheerleading was an opportunity to do it all over again on an even bigger level! It seemed like a natural progression for me!

How would you describe the career you’re entering?
Hopefully, in the future I will work for a politician, such as a Congressman that sits on the agriculture committee and advise him on agriculture policy like the farm bill. Research would be a large part of my work and where I would spend most of my time in addition to writing. The goal of my work is to influence policy that reflects the best interests of the American people and our international ties and relations.

How do the qualities that make/made you a great cheerleader benefit you in your science studies?
I think one of the most important qualities of a professional cheerleader is having a positive attitude. Even when things go wrong or don’t work out the way you want them to you still have to keep your smile and make sure everyone is having a good time as an ambassador for your team. Having a positive attitude is equally as important in the work place especially when working on teams or group projects. It may seem minor, but a positive attitude can you take you long way!

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]?
Definitely and I am proud to do it. I have often had general conversations with people about my career and academic background. I make it a point to let them know I also have important commitments outside of my professional and academic career in cheerleading. I hope my sharing this with people it will help to change their perspective. Also, if I am ever around anyone that starts talking about professional cheerleaders in the stereotypical sense I correct them in the most polite way by sharing my background and background of professional cheerleaders I know that are extremely intelligent and have great careers. People usually do not know most professional cheerleaders have to work full time or be a student to even audition for a team. That alone helps to change their perspective.

Best cheerleading experience?
As a Red Rocker, I participated in the Washington DC Best Buddies challenge. I was able to cheer cyclists, runners, and walkers doing a 5k walk/run then a 100-mile ride. We also performed twice at the event and met some wonderful people! The Best Buddies organization creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It was by the best experience I have had!

Best science-related experience?
During a former congressional internship, I was able to speak with Eva Clayton about agriculture policy and her career. She is one of those people you say when people ask, “if you could talk to anyone for five minutes who it would be and why?” I actually had the opportunity to speak with her. Eva Clayton is a former Congresswoman and has a vast background in agricultural policy and even became Assistant Director General of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in 2003. She gave me such good advice about agricultural policy and how more women should get involved in the science.

Elesia NHL Washington Capitals Science Cheerleader GradIf you could rewind the clock and change your degree(s), would you?
Not at all! I love that I am involved in a science people generally don’t know a lot about it. I love agriculture, and I hope to have a long future working in the science!

What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
I would tell myself nothing is unattainable. If you want it, go get it!

What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I really like country music. My Pandora stations stays on Taylor Swift, Carried Underwood, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, and Hunter Hayes! Those are all my favorites!

Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
I like to call myself a full time pageant girl! I love competing, working in the community, being on stage, and meeting all the girls! I’m seriously addicted!

You’re aiming to work in agricultural policy for the federal government after you get your Ph.D. Any other plans for the future?
There could be possible plans to be an elected official, future Governor in the works, but that wouldn’t be for a really long time! My professional cheerleading career is just getting started!

Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
The Science Cheerleaders are so greatly needed to change the perspective of Science.  Many kids are interested, but they don’t think it’s cool. The Science Cheerleaders can help change this and influence the youth to get active in science!

Note: Even if you don’t have a science degree, there are plenty of scientific research projects you can get involved in. In fact, scientists need your help! Since Elesia cheers for an NHL team, we’re shining the spotlight on RinkWatch, a project that aims to track climate change through backyard ice skating rinks! “Pin” the location of your backyard ice rink on the project organizer’s online map, then keep a diary of the days when you are able to skate on the ice. Learn more about RinkWatch on our sister-site, SciStarter!