Using Cheerleading to get people interested in science!

Did you know, many NFL cheerleaders are also scientists?

New England Patriots cheerleader Kelly is pursuing a PhD in neuroscience! Photo credit: www.sciencecheerleader.com
New England Patriots cheerleader Kelly is pursuing a PhD in neuroscience! Photo credit: http://www.sciencecheerleader.com

Those who know me will know that I LOVE cheerleading, as well as science, which is why headlines about NFL cheerleaders doing PhDs and ‘The Science Cheerleaders’ program have caught my attention. Founded by Darlene Cavalier (ex 76’ers cheerleader), The Science Cheerleader (www.sciencecheerleader.com) aims to use cheer to get young girls interested in science and challenge the stereotype of both scientists and cheerleaders. I was lucky enough to get an interview with Darlene and I am excited to share it with you!

Darlene cheering for the Philadelphia 76ers
Darlene cheering for the Philadelphia 76ers. Photo credit http://www.sciencecheerleader.com

Thank you so much Darlene for chatting to me, I am so excited to have you here!

Why don’t you start by telling us what the Science Cheerleader is all about and what gave you the idea for the Science Cheerleader?

We enlisted the help of professional cheerleaders to recruit people for an adult science literacy campaign several years ago. That caught the eye of the media and, as a result, we started hearing from real science cheerleaders (professional cheerleaders pursuing science careers). We interviewed them online to learn more about them and share their stories. Then, in 2010, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund gave us a grant to bring 11 of them together to participate in the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. They performed routines to science-themed songs, led science cheers with a LOT of young girls, talked about their careers and signed autographs/posed for pictures.  
How would you describe the current stereotype of scientists?
I, personally, don’t have a particular stereotype of scientists but we know that kids do. 
Here’s something I copied from the National Science Foundation’s website:
 A recent study of fourth graders showed that 66 percent of girls and 68 percent of boys reported liking science. But something else starts happening in elementary school. By second grade, when students (both boys and girls) are asked to draw a scientist, most portray a white male in a lab coat. The drawings generally show an isolated person with a beaker or test tube. Any woman scientist they draw looks severe and not very happy. The persistence of the stereotypes start to turn girls off, and by eighth grade, boys are twice as interested in STEM careers as girls are.
The science cheerleaders certainly challenge those stereotypes! 
As a bonus, we are also able to challenge conventional thinking about what it means to be a cheerleaders. There are an estimated 3 million young cheerleaders in the United States. Empowering them by showing them current and former cheerleaders who’ve made science and engineering their career, is powerful. Reminding them that the same skills that make them a good cheerleader will make them a great scientist and engineer, is important (time management skills, public speaking, confidence, team-building, optimism, determination, persistence, etc).
 What do you think is the most effective way to encourage young girls to pursue science?
I think it’s important to try to connect to them where they. Not just geographically where they are (which is also important) but where they are in life (what are their current interests? how are they receiving messages?). And approaching outreach with the understanding that most young kids don’t quite know what they want to be when they get older. We try to engage them in doing science through projects on SciStarter so they can see that science *is* for everyone (scientists, cheerleaders, parents, everyone).

What is the most exciting thing you have done with Science Cheerleader?

SpaceMicrobes, Guinness World Record, and our forth-coming Science of Cheerleading ebook (free). 

Where would you love to take Science Cheerleader in the future?

Global (now that I know you exist!). And we’re going to seek financial support to expand and sustain the organization and related activities.  
To find out more visit www.sciencecheerleader.com and if you are a UK cheerleader in a science career and want to get involved, drop me an email 🙂
Till next time,
Lucy
xxx
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