Science Cheerleader Amessia: Epidemiologist and WNBA Cheerleader

Amessia Atlanta Dream Science Cheerleader 2

What turned you on to science?
What’s funny about my current profession is…I WASN’T a big fan of Science in High School! I had the goal of working in the medical field and knew that if I wanted to excel in it, I had to learn to love Science. Science has so many components that it was hard to gain a desire for it because you are often exposed to the areas that don’t interest you. I didn’t want to learn about plants and I wasn’t a big fan of animals so I had to dig deeper and find what was for me. During my last year in undergrad, I took an Emerging Diseases course as an elective and was forever captured by the facets of diseases. I wanted to know what caused them, how they were transmitted, how they affect our lifestyle, and more importantly, how to get rid of them. This sparked my interest in Epidemiology and I knew that this was the career for me!

What is your degree in and from where?
I have a Masters of Public Health from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA

There are a lot of illnesses out there that seem to spread like wildfire. What is the best thing people can do to avoid them, short of shutting ourselves in and avoiding contact with people? 🙂
This might sound cliché but most communicable diseases can be prevented by doing things like washing your hands, coughing and sneezing in your elbow, and keeping things from your open orifices such as your mouth, nose and eyes. The one thing I tell all my clients is to watch and respond to symptoms. Always note when something is wrong and immediately seek the advice of a physician. Never let things like fevers, bleeding, fatigue, night sweats, etc. go on for long without seeking care. Many conditions can be treated and cured if they are diagnosed early. If you endure the symptoms without receiving treatment, you are causing more harm to your body and many times the damage is irreversible :/

Best part of your day job?
The best part of my job is waking up every day not knowing what conditions I’ll be faced with. My job is so unpredictable that I could be working on a Chicken Pox case and 5 minutes later receive a call about a suspected Anthrax. I love the versatility and the ability to be knowledgeable in all areas of disease!

You’re cheering for the Atlanta Dream WNBA team. How long have you cheered for them, and why did you try out to be a professional cheerleader?
I’ve cheered for the Atlanta Dream for 3 years. I danced every year in college and after graduating I knew I had to find somewhere to continue to feed this passion. One of the members from my college dance team, and a former Atlanta Dream Shooting Star gave me the information regarding tryouts the same day they were being held. I rushed home from work, packed my bags, and attended the audition! A week later, I began my first year as a Shooting Star!

Which came first, your interest in science or cheerleading?
Performing has always been my interest and my passion. However, my interest in science came before cheerleading because I had never cheered before becoming a Shooting Star. I have been a dancer since I was about 3 or 4 and loved the fact that the Atlanta Dream Shooting Stars was a mix between dancing and cheerleading.

So what’s it like to be an epidemiologist?
As an epidemiologist I monitor the diseases that affect individuals in the population. When I arrive at work, I check my phone, fax and email to see if there are any reports of disease. Reports can be as minor as Chicken Pox or as major as HIV. I investigate these reports to see how the individual was exposed and whether they have exposed others. I also arrange for them to receive care and treatment for their condition if necessary. I spend a lot of my time in Health Departments meeting with clients and linking them to the services they need to manage they condition. My ultimate goal is prevention and intervention. I want to prevent individuals from getting diseases and also intervene in the transmission of disease so that others are not affected.

What does being an epidemiologist mean to you?
My role in society is to increase the quality of life in people in the community. I want to make them aware of the different conditions that are among our population and teach them to not fall victim to them. I want to educate them on risky behaviors such as smoking and obesity that contribute to the severity of many conditions. It is important for me to make sure each and every person that I work with has received the necessary services to manage their condition. It sometimes becomes difficult to provide the best care possible with little funding and minimal staff. I face challenges with trying to render services for individuals who are unable to afford the treatment needed to manage their condition. My department works hard to provide as much help as possible with little resources. When I have placed someone into care, or provided a person with treatment, or immunized a child so they can start school, I have made a difference. I know that I cannot change the world but every person counts and just one is always enough of a difference for me.

How do the qualities that make you a great cheerleader benefit you in your science career?
The positive attitude that you must display as a cheerleader is definitely helpful in a career like mine. I am constantly the bearer of bad news on my job and always have to keep a heartening and hopeful attitude when dealing with clients and their conditions. Sometimes the concern you show and the smile you display makes things a bit easier to deal with.

Have you faced a situation where you had to challenge a stereotype about cheerleaders [or scientists]?
I think it is very important to break down the negative stereotypes about cheerleaders. Many individuals are unaware of the aspects of our life and the accomplishments we have outside of cheerleading. I always get excited and hopeful when I am able to share my story with others. It is a great feeling to change the perception of individuals who have little knowledge of what cheerleaders do. My team and I were actually faced with a situation where we had to deal with a rude fan. During a game, the DJ played music to get the crowd pumped and this particular gentleman felt like we should have been dancing at that time. He proceeds to yell “All yall get paid to do is dance and yall can’t even do that!” It was really a slap in the face because not only was he unaware of the very busy lives we have outside of cheerleading but he most certainly was oblivious to the countless hours of practices, the promos and appearances, the numerous dance classes that are taken, and the pre and post-game activities we are required to partake in. We did not acknowledge this gentlemen and continued to smile proudly throughout the game.

Best cheerleading experience?
Being chosen as Co-Captain

Best science-related experience?
I made all A’s and 1 B my entire Masters career!

Amessia Atlanta Dream Science Cheerleader GraduationIf you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you? If so, to what and why? If not, why not?
Yes, I would obtain a Physician Assistant degree. As an Epidemiologist, I constantly work with physicians, labs, and hospitals. I am required to read medical records for the patients that I see and analyze labs to determine a diagnosis. This has allowed me to learn a great deal about the medical field and I am now taking steps to pursue a PA degree.

What advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Try to accomplish as much as possible in life. Success has no end. When you tell your story to others always make sure it’s something you can be proud of…something above and beyond anything they could have ever envisioned from seeing your face. Make the world say “WOW!”

What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I am also a Makeup Artist. During the little free time that I have I provide my services for weddings, photoshoots, and other special occasions. I was even privileged to do makeup on the Atlanta Dream basketball players during their Media Day.

Apart from work and cheering, what are some of your favorite activities?
I love to dance! Dancing is my passion and the reason why I auditioned for a team like the Atlanta Dream. I also like to shop and buy tons of shoes!

What are your plans for the future?
I plan to start school and work towards a Physician Assistant degree.

Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
Many times people are surprised that we have full time jobs, hobbies, and other interest. I think it would be awesome to become a Science Cheerleader because it gives others the opportunity to see us in a different light. It shows that we are more than jumps and leaps, screams and yells, or “pretty faces” and smiles. It would be an honor to bring light to the hard work we do off the court!