Guest Post: Cheering for Science at Super Bowl XLIX

Jack Bobo 2Hello, science fans! Today’s guest posting is from Jack Bobo, a Senior Advisor for Global Food Policy at the U.S. Department of State. Mr. Bobo is responsible for developing and implementing U.S. trade policy related to new agricultural technologies and working with foreign governments to address regulatory barriers to U.S. agricultural exports. Prior to joining the State Department, Mr. Bobo practiced law at the Washington, D.C. firm of Crowell & Moring, LLP. His education includes a degree in law, a Master of Science in Environmental Science, as well as degrees in chemistry, biology and psychology.

 

Not all ambassadors or diplomats work for the Department of State. The art of diplomacy is about building bridges through negotiations and tact when interacting with others. And nothing says tact like American football.

On Sunday, February 1, 2015, more than 100 million people from the United States, and millions more from around the world, will gather in their homes, at bars and at parties to watch the New England Patriots line up against the Seattle Seahawks for Super Bowl XLIX. As the viewers turn their eyes to this quintessentially American pastime, they don’t necessarily think of the players and cheerleaders as ambassadors of American culture, and yet that is what they are.

On Super Bowl Sunday, the players won’t be the only ambassadors on the field. There are also the cheerleaders. And while it may not be obvious at first glance, many of the cheerleaders are more than just cultural ambassadors; they are also ambassadors for science.

Nearly one dozen of the cheerleaders who take the field February 1st are members of the Science Cheerleader organization led by Darlene Cavalier, which promotes careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Darlene told me that the organization also aims to break down stereotypes as to what it means to be a scientist. The Science Cheerleaders talk to kids, engage people in science and perform at events all over the country, including the USA Science and Engineering Festival in the nation’s capital.

The State Department is also engaged in promoting STEM education and breaking down gender stereotypes. For example, the NeXXt Scholars Initiative, managed by the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, seeks to engage and advance more young women from around the world in STEM careers by preparing them to be the next generation of leaders in science, engineering and innovation. Acting Science Adviser Frances Colon, noted that this partnership with 37 U.S. women’s colleges expands opportunities for young women from Muslim-majority countries to obtain a world-class undergraduate STEM education in the United States in an empowering and comfortable environment alongside American women students. The NeXXt Scholars Initiative will provide partnership, mentorship, and networking support for these International NeXXt Scholars and their college-nominated American STEM-Sisters, laying a solid STEM foundation and providing pathways to future research collaborations and economic empowerment. Our Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs also implements STEM exchange programs to empower the next generation of women leaders. The TechGirls program, for example, brings tech-savvy teenagers from the Middle East and North Africa to engage with their American counterparts in the classroom and the community, working on their technical development and leadership skills. The TechGirls program alumnae have shared their tech skills with thousands of girls in their home countries, hosted conferences, and gone on to study at leading universities around the world.

Profile of a Science Cheerleader

HSGD- KELLYOne of the newest Science Cheerleaders who will take the field on Super Bowl Sunday is Kelly. Kelly is pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology (specifically in Cognitive Neuroscience). She’s in her fourth of five years, having received her M.A. in 2013. Prior to this, she received an Ed.M. (Master’s in Education) in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard University in 2011, as well as a B.A. in Psychology and Spanish from Middlebury College in 2010.

Kelly was awarded a competitive three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Defense in 2013 to fund her graduate research. She describes her research interests as follows: “I am currently researching how sleep and stress affect memory for emotional information. I think sleep is incredibly interesting because we sleep for approximately a third of our lifetime, yet we know so little about it. I am interested in emotional memory because so much of what we experience is emotional in content, and overall, I am motivated by the fact that my research has particular implications for understanding and preventing the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (e.g., in our military veterans).”

As if working on a PhD and cheering for the New England Patriots wasn’t enough, Kelly also worked with the Science Cheerleaders to coordinate a research project that was recently launched into space. Last month, on the International Space Station, astronaut Terry Virts measured the growth of microbes collected by citizen scientists across the United States. This citizen science research (led by the Science Cheerleaders, SciStarter, and the Eisen Lab at UC Davis), known as Project MERCCURI, (link to spacemicrobes.org) investigates how microbes from different places on Earth compare to each other and to those found on the International Space Station.

Kelly and fellow Science Cheerleaders from the Patriots, Seahawks. and other NFL teams will lead a Science Pep Rally and talk about their careers at the Arizona Science Center on January 30 at 11 am, as a preamble to the Super Bowl in Phoenix! Interestingly, Kelly is from Scottsdale, Arizona, and began who science journey by frequently visiting the Arizona Science Center as a child.

Cheering for Science

Diplomats at U.S. embassies around the world will be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 1st along with U.S. and foreign viewers. Not only will they be promoting sports diplomacy, but they will also be encouraging science diplomacy.

Scientists everywhere deserve many cheers for the work they do. (My wife is currently doing her part for science by helping to staff the Monrovia Medical Unit in Liberia, along with other Public Health Service officers, where they are caring for public health workers from the region who contract Ebola.)

Best of luck to all the cultural and science ambassadors of Super Bowl XLIX. We will be rooting for you all.