About Us

Science Cheerleaders is a non profit (501 c3) organization comprised of more than 300 current and former NFL, NBA and college cheerleaders pursuing STEM careers.

The Science Cheerleaders:

  • playfully challenge stereotypes about scientists, engineers and cheerleaders
  • engage people from all walks of life in science by encouraging participation in citizen science activities,
  • and inspire young women (including 3-4 million U.S. cheerleaders) to consider careers in STEM.

We do this by recasting the image of scientists and engineers while giving people the opportunity to explore their personal interests as a gateway to science. We communicate in ways that inspire people using our very real, very personal stories.

Check out our FAQ to learn more about what we do!

Our National and Regional Coordinators are the backbone of our organization.


Ashley Keegan (Florida)


Ashley is a Regional Coordinator in Florida and former Orlando Magic Dancer of five years. Growing up on the Space Coast watching space shuttle launches she wanted to get involved and now works at NASA Kennedy Space Center. She is currently working on projects upgrading the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the crawler transporter, mobile launch platform, and launch Pad in order to support the new Space Launch System and sending humans to Mars. She also runs an all-star cheer and dance team and hopes to motivate and inspire today’s youth to get more involved in science!

Hilary Nicholson (National and Northeast – including New England, NY, PA, and national)


Hilary has always been interested in helping people feel better and do better, using her childhood figure skating career to support causes such as Lace Up for Leukemia with her performances. This interest led her to study science and medicine during her undergraduate work at Colgate University, where she balanced her academic career with a position on their cheerleading team. Hilary completed her PhD in molecular pharmacology and physiology at Brown University in 2016, where continued her pursuit of helping those who are suffering by investigating new chemotherapy targets while staying connected to cheerleading through coaching the Bears cheerleading team. Currently, Hilary is a postdoctoral fellow at Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard University, where she will focuses on to selectively targeting tumor cells to improve treatment of cancer. She is passionate about her work and intends to continue to develop new avenues for disease treatment in her future career.


Melissa Hodges Smithson (South – including GA, Carolinas, TN)


Melissa has always had a passion for science, medicine, leadership, and dance. Melissa earned a Neuroscience degree from Vanderbilt University, where she was captain of the Vanderbilt Commodores dance team. After graduation, Melissa began working as a research assistant in a molecular neuroscience laboratory, studying the molecular components of psychiatric disorders. She then joined a neuroimaging laboratory and studied the neurochemistry of diabetes and obesity. During the time she worked full time in these labs, Melissa was a cheerleader for NFL Tennessee Titans for four years. Currently, Melissa works within the neuromodulation division of a medical device company, where she provides clinical expertise and support for surgeons implanting neurostimulators and education for patients and families. Melissa also teaches dance classes and choreographs for cheer and dance teams.

RegCoord_SamSamantha Sanders (West and National Events Coordinator – including CA, AZ, TX, NV and national)


Samantha resides in Los Angeles where she works as an engineering project manager helping to build applications for digital entertainment. She loves working in technology and getting to interact with various teams on each project. Samantha cheered for the Arizona Cardinals and has spent most of her life dancing and cheering. During her time as a cheerleader, she was able to travel and visit with families on military bases and even got to choreograph some of her team’s game-day performances. Samantha hopes to inspire the next generation of young engineers to follow their dreams!

RegCoord_JeannieJeannie Gonzalez Jaffe

Jeannie first joined the Science Cheerleaders in 2012 as a phlebotomist with a degree in the social sciences who danced with the Orlando Predators. She has since become a Construction Mechanic in the United States Navy and completed a rewarding season with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jeannie’s passion for exercise science and nutrition motivated her to earn both personal trainer and nutritionist certifications. She hopes to challenge stereotypes of professional cheerleaders as well as women who serve in the military, particularly in the Engineering field.

Megan Dillon


Two of Megan’s favorite things are technology and dance.  From a young age she was always interested in computers and how they work.  Megan graduated from The George Washington University with a B.S. in Computer Engineering while maintaining a spot on the Nationally Ranked First Ladies Dance Team.  Post-college Megan began work in the technology field and cheered for the Washington Redskins for three years.  Megan continues to progress her career in technology while staying active with Science Cheerleader and promoting STEM careers wherever and whenever she can!

Operations Team

Darlene Cavalier - Founder of Science Cheerleader

Darlene Cavalier (Founder and Director)

Darlene Cavalier founded the Science Cheerleader to unite the citizen’s desire to be heard and valued, the scientist’s growing interest in the public’s involvement, and government’s need to garner public support. The Science Cheerleader serves to get the conversation going, rally the troops, solicit views from all sides and change the tone of science and science policy in this country. She also founded SciStarter, a citizen science hotspot connecting people to thousands of formal and informal research projects in need of their help.

Darlene is a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University, School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society. In 2016, she was elected to the Board of the Citizen Science Association; in 2016 she was appointed to the EPA’s National Advisory Committee on Environmental Policy and Technology; and in 2017 she was appointed to the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning .
Cavalier is  the co-founder of the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST) network, co-editor of The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science, author of The Science of Cheerleading (available for free on iTunes!).


Bart Leahy (Event and Membership Director)

Bart manages a lot of what most people never see on this site (and we all know that’s where the important stuff happens). In addition to running our events, he also helps us vet and interview prospective Science Cheerleaders. His behind-the-scenes role fits his rather off-beat career as an English major with stints at Walt Disney World and as a technical writing for a NASA defense contractor NASA, and space advocacy blogging..



Mark Severance (Space Guy)

Mark is Science Cheerleader’s Space Guy and he has been a Space Guy all of his life. A NASA engineer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Mark has spent most of his career in Mission Control Center-Houston as a Flight Controller for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. He has had a life-long interest in spaceflight and views the space program as a catalyst for engaging minds of all ages in a deeper understanding of science, engineering, technology and mathematics. Wait until you see what Mark’s got brewing for SciCheer and our sister-site SciStarter.

Jonathan Brier (Tech Wrangler)

Jonathan helps keep Science Cheerleader online and running smoothly and advises our sister-site SciStarter. He is a PhD student in Information Studies at the University of Maryland focused on the domain of citizen science and is an Eagle Scout. You might find him at an event booth talking about citizen science, hiking through the woods, or standing at his desk on his computer digging into data to discover something new and exciting. He loves talking about open science, technology, security, and cooking.