Wendy: NFL cheerleader, Biomedical Engineering PhD candidate

[Editor’s Note: It’s difficult to keep up with Science Cheerleader Wendy. Since we originally posted this interview, Wendy graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in biomedical engineering and is now in pursuit of a PhD at the University of California, Davis. Along the way, she’s been a cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcons, Sacramento Kings and now the Oakland Raiders! What’s next? She says she plans to graduate from medical school to become a reconstructive surgeon and help the military develop biological reconstructive technologies…and she’s planning to get married and have a big family.]

Photo Credit: Bob Carr

Photo Credit: Bob Carr

SciCheer: What turned you on to science and when?
Wendy: I’ve always been interested in science. Since I can remember I’ve wanted to know how things worked. In middle school and high school I became more interested in the biological sciences than chemistry or physics. Once in college I realized that I love physiology and the biomedical aspect of that. Basically I think that anything that explains how the body works is super cool!

SciCheer: Please tell us about your favorite and most challenging courses you are taking to prepare for your Ph.D.
Wendy: Favorite courses: systems physiology, systems pathophysiology, and cellular physiology; most challenging: principles of conservation – it was like four really hard classes crammed into one.

SciCheer: Which came first: your interest in science or cheerleading?
Wendy: I’ve danced on and off pretty much my whole life. I got more involved in high school because I was on the dance team, as my interests in science continued to develop. I continued to dance in college, as well as pursue a science degree, and that’s when I was really introduced to the idea of professional cheerleading. My collegiate coach is a captain on the Falcons and her ‘pro cheer’ style definitely influenced the team and my ambitions. Before then I had thought of cheering for the NFL as a very small niche – like something only a select group of special people got to be involved with. Once I saw it as a tangible opportunity, I knew I wanted to do it.

SciCheer: Can you describe a typical day (at work, then cheering…please elaborate)?
Wendy: I’m a full-time student so I’m in class during most of the day. I also work as a research assistant in a lab on campus. Between dance rehearsals, games, and studying, I don’t have much “free time.”

SciCheer: Did you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences?
Wendy: Honestly nothing frustrates me more than when people react based on what they think they know about cheerleaders. Where I grew up, people seemed to think that you couldn’t be both “pretty” and “smart,” and they made that clear in how they acted toward certain people. My genuine interests in science kept me on the path to my degree and career. Thankfully at Georgia Tech and in Atlanta and California, people don’t buy into those stereotypes as much. I’ve found that while most people don’t expect me to say I’m a Biomedical Engineering student and they think it’s great. Everyone I’ve dealt with professionally has been very supportive and helpful.

SciCheer: How did your fellow cheerleaders accept your interest in science?
Wendy: They think it’s great! Everyone on the team is so supportive of each other in every aspect of life. I love getting texts that say things like “Good luck, smarty pants!” from team mates when they know I have a test.

SciCheer: Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream (cheerleading, etc.) associated with beauty or being a ditz, and following another (a STEM career) usually associated with, well, geeks?
Wendy: Don’t believe people when they tell you you can’t have it all. I, the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders, the Raiderettes, and every other professional cheerleader in the world are proof of that. There is no reason you can’t do it all! There will always be someone telling you something negative, no matter what you do, so just stop listening and work towards accomplishing your goals for yourself. And keep in mind that for every one person who says you can’t accomplish something, there are 10 other people saying you can and thinking that what you’re working toward, whether cheer-related or academically, is amazing. Like my mom always tells me, reach for the stars!

SciCheer: What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Wendy: DON’T GET DISCOURAGED. Believe your mom when she tells you YOU CAN DO IT!

SciCheer: Best cheerleading experience?
Wendy: My favorite singular moment is running out of the tunnel on the first game day and seeing thousands of waving flags. The best ongoing experiences are working with such talented women and getting to be so involved in the community.

SciCheer: Best science-related experience?
Wendy: Having a paper I co-wrote published in the Journal of Biomaterials. (Engineering fibrin matrices: The engagement of polymerization pockets through fibrin knob technology for the delivery and retention of therapeutic proteins.)
And, of course, being a coPI on Project MERCCURI with the Science Cheerleaders and colleagues at UC Davis!

Learn more about Wendy in this Today Show feature.

Related posts:
UC Davis: Cheering Microbes into Space!

Daily Mail, UK: Mathematicians by Day, Cheerleaders by Night

Wired: Need a refresher? This cheerleader has you covered.

DIY Space Exploration: PR Meets Hard Science

Read guest blog posts from Wendy:
Cheers to supporting future scientists and engineers!