Brandi has a Master’s Degree and she cheered for the Indianapolis Colts.
Hi, Brandi! What turned you on to science?
What turned me on to science was my interest in discovering a cure for cancer. I had a grandfather, who was a vivid portrait painter, creator, and artist. He was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was very young, and succumbed to the disease within months of his diagnosis. My only true memory of him was spending time at his home viewing sculptures that he had designed. I was devastated when I learned he would no longer be with us, but I was going to be sure to devote my time and efforts to discovering preventive methods to reduce the incidence and prevalence of this and other diseases.
You have a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health and a Master’s of Public Health Administration. Where did you go to school, and what got you into that particular field?
I am a graduate of Indiana University (IU), in Bloomington, IN. IU offered a variety of healthcare degree options through their school of HPER, now renamed School of Public Health. I knew I wanted to conduct studies in the health field but wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I originally started my career major in dietetics and nutrition, but later discovered I wanted to broaden that scope to include teen pregnancy prevention, tobacco cessations, and general disease prevention. I had an interest in preventive medicine and wanted to understand how lifestyles could greatly impact heath. Public health afforded me the opportunity to focus on all of these options under one umbrella.
Favorite and/or most challenging courses you took to prepare for your degree? Why?
My most challenging courses had to be those in community health education. Even though they were challenging, they were my favorites. What made them challenging was that there was no (one) concrete answer to solve an individual problem. There were so many different values, backgrounds, and general experiences that had to be taken into consideration in order to obtain a specific solution. For instance, we worked on a project to discover why obesity rates in America had skyrocketed. And to that question, a lot of factors had to be considered. I had to conduct various research, survey clients, review studies, and come up with the most reasonable conclusions possible. It created a positive challenge to work with other health specialists to discover appropriate solutions to common health concerns.
Best part of your day job?
The best part of my job is hearing testimonials from people whose lives have been changed by their health coaching sessions with me. I had a client who wanted to work on weight loss because he felt it was negatively affecting his overall health. His biometric levels were high, and he was at an increased risk for diabetes and other health conditions. I provided him support, motivation, and heath advice, along with goal setting tactics to improve his health. After several coaching sessions, he made some lifestyle changes, and started seeing benefits. He lost weight, his biometric numbers improved, and he was eventually taken off medications. These improvements along with other changes helped him obtain healthier BMI (Body Mass Index) levels, and reduced his risk of diabetes and other health complications as planned. I love recommending health improvements and helping people understand how certain lifestyle changes can greatly improve their health.
You cheered for the Indianapolis Colts for six years, getting the opportunity to cheer in the Pro Bowl. Could you tell us about some of that? Also, why did you try out to be a cheerleader?
My 6 years of cheerleading for the Indianapolis Colts had to be some of the greatest times and experiences ever. Aside from cheering on the field, I enjoyed doing community appearances, fundraisers, and traveling to Bowl games. I definitely grew, mentally, emotionally, and socially. It wasn’t always easy, but a lot of hard work and sacrifice we had to put in to be our best on and off the field. It was all well worth it. The Pro Bowl had to be one of the most amazing experiences ever. Being selected by peers and upper management was an amazing honor and opportunity, and I wanted to represent my team well. We traveled to Hawaii to support our teams, which represented the greatest players in the league. We were treated like royalty.
I tried out for cheerleading because I had cheered at every level, since grade 3, and professional cheerleading would be the ultimate. I auditioned for the Indianapolis Colts, having no clue of what to expect at this level, but it ultimately extended out to a 6-year career. From a very young age I had always wanted to be a cheerleader. My uncle was a basketball player for the University of Notre Dame, and my sister and I would always go down on the floor with their current cheerleaders, to cheer him on, on the sidelines. I loved it so much, I couldn’t put the poms down.
Which came first, your interest in science or cheerleading?
Both came around the same time at a very young age. I had lost my grandfather to cancer, and wanted to go into scientific research around age 6. At the same time, my uncle was playing collegiate basketball and my sister and I were his biggest cheerleaders. I knew I wanted to be a cheerleader for the long haul.
What’s a day like on the job for you?
As a Certified Heath Education Specialist, I have a variety of roles. I help people find ways to improve their health. For instance, if someone wants to lose weight, stop smoking, or get fit, I can help them do that by giving them health information and health advice to make changes. Although it may seem easy to do, some people have challenges that will prevent them from reaching their goals. I can help them find ways around those challenges. Most health educators work in an office environment, clinic, or government agency. I work from my home office, talking to at least 10 participants per day. I have also done webinars online, health coaching face to face with participants, and gone to on-site work locations to do health screenings and health coaching sessions. The goal for my work is to help people become and remain healthy.
What does it mean for you to be a health education specialist?
As a health education specialist I feel my role in society is to serve as an advocate to help improve the heath and quality of life in individuals, communities, and groups. With the many communicable and preventable diseases and health conditions that have surfaced in recent years, I serve as an adviser or “book of health information” regarding current health conditions. I want to help people understand how to live healthy lives and improve quality of life those who may have already been exposed to or diagnosed with conditions.
How do the qualities that made you a great cheerleader benefit you in your science career?
The qualities of a cheerleader have instilled in me values including order, organization, leadership, and good character skills. As a health educator previously working with the Indiana State Department of Health, I took on leadership roles, developing policies and procedures for state health programs. That role elevated me into creating various organized groups that work to implement additional health programs across the state. Also, I feel that maintaining great character is key, in and out of the workplace. In cheerleading, we interact and come into contact with fans across the community, and they are expecting characteristics such as friendliness, openness, and kindness. Having these great characteristics carry over in the workplace, and shows colleagues that you are easy to work with.
Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about cheerleaders [or scientists]?
I have been faced with situations where I had to challenge the stereotype. But what’s great about it is, I had the opportunity to be featured in Ebony Magazines 57th Anniversary Issue: African–American Cheerleaders Showcasing Beauty and Brains. The beautiful Halle Berry graced the cover of this 2002 Edition. But it broke down stereotypes of cheerleading and the misconception of them being uneducated. There were medical doctors, nurses, teachers, and a variety of educational backgrounds featured. I am also in the process of writing my first book – The View From the 50-Yard Line, where views about cheerleaders and stereotypes are addressed as well. I love sharing stories about how cheerleaders are really educated. Every opportunity I get, I like to share my experience about the girls I’ve cheered with and how educated we all are.
Best cheerleading experience?
There are so many – but the best cheerleading experience had to be cheering in Super Bowl XLI. We played the Chicago Bears in Miami, Florida 2006-2007 season. I was team captain at the time, and had just come back from making the Pro Bowl earlier that year. I was unsure if I was coming back after the Pro Bowl. But I made a decision that I would come back for 1 more year. I wanted to teach my squad everything I had learned in the Pro Bowl, including how to become a better team. Unbeknownst to me, we made it to the Super Bowl that year, which was the most amazing experience. Although this had to be one of first Super Bowls where it rained most of the game, it was so much fun, and I loved every bit of it. What an awesome opportunity to really leave the game on top with my team!!
Best science or education-related experience?
My best science or education related experience was passing the national exam and earning my certification as a Certified Health Education Specialist (C.H.E.S). It ensures that I can serve as an advocate, assess healthcare needs, and plan health education programs. I also conduct evidence-based research and provide recommendations on health issues.
If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you? If so, to what and why? If not, why not?
No. I would not change my degree. At the time I earned my degree in Public Health, I don’t believe it was as popular as it is now. But somehow, I just knew that this was gong to be an explosive career field in the coming years. With the rise of preventive care, disease prevention, and current epidemics, I believe public health practices will continue to be at the forefront of career fields. I appreciate that going into this field has given me the capacity to focus on a variety of health issues. I really enjoy my work and look forward to addressing different public health concerns if/and as they arise.
What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Reach for the moon and you may land amongst the stars!
What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
What people find surprising about me is I’m really down to earth. I’m a “people-person.” Maybe this falls in line with the stereotypes that cheerleaders are not – but I do love to work with people, enjoy interaction, and I am very family oriented.
Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
My favorite thing to do is sing. I come from a very musical family and have an extreme love for music. I’ve had the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at Monday Night Football, and also during the post-season. One of the best opportunities I’ve had was opening up for Patti LaBelle prior to Super Bowl XLVI, and performing with Madonna in her “Like a Prayer” finale!
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to continue spreading the word, educating, and empowering people to take control of their health. This can be through music, book writing, and health consulting. I plan to develop my own practice and act as a resource to help improve health and provide resources for better qualities of life.
Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
I still love to dance and cheer. But most of all this will give me an opportunity to connect my love of cheerleading with my clinical practices in health promotion. Go Science Cheerleaders!