When we say girl, you say scientist!

Glasses. Goggles. Lab coats. Beakers. Test tubes. Look familiar? This is what most kids draw when asked to draw a scientist. More often, the scientist will be a man. We asked a 9, 10 and 12-year-old, and that’s what we got.

What you typically won’t get are pom-poms. You can say the same for mathematicians or communications professionals for other STEM areas.

Of the thousands of active students currently pursuing a STEM degree in the college, 61 percent are actually women. Some believe they have to follow an unwritten rulebook on what it means to be a scientist. The college has four women who spent time as NFL cheerleaders that are breaking down these stereotypes. They want girls to know you can love princesses, dancing, girly dresses and pom-poms and still dream of being a scientist that befriends gorillas or creates amazing things in a lab. For them, it’s not an either-or proposition.

Mireya Mayor, director of the Exploration and Science Communication Initiative in CASE, is one of more than 300 current and former NFL, NBA and college cheerleaders that make up the nonprofit Science Cheerleaders – an organization which challenges stereotypes, encourages youth to pursue STEM education and engages the public in citizen science efforts.  

These women have dedicated their careers to science, technology, engineering and math.

For Mayor, becoming an NFL cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins was a way to enjoy her love for sports from the sidelines.  

After taking a science class in anthropology as a pre-law student, Mayor found something else she was passionate about. She decided to trade in her pom-poms for field boots – pink boots.

“When I learned about all of the rare and unique primates on the verge of extinction, some of which had never been studied or even photographed, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Mayor said.

Ada Monserrat was inspired by her parents to pursue mathematics, but took a pit stop along the way to cheer for the Miami Dolphins from 1998-2000.

The excitement and thrill of the crowds was the perfect fit for the senior math instructor who also loves to travel and meet influential figures including Stephen Hawking and Buzz Aldrin.

“Nothing worthwhile comes easy,” Monserrat said. “It’s within the journey not the destination that you discover your true strength and passion.”

Moving from the sidelines to front of the classroom, Monserrat is now instilling the same love for numbers in her students through evidence-based teaching techniques.

Rosanna Castro and Michelle Chernicoff, while not STEM professionals, have made careers out of being the cheerleaders for scientific research.

Today, Castro spends her time promoting the research and work as a senior account manager for the Center for Children and Families.

Castro tried out for the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders after one of her close friends convinced her it was a good idea. Her time on the squad actually helped build her confidence.

“Curly hair wasn’t always trendy; I was always self-conscious,” Castro said. “The Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders organization encouraged me to keep it because it made me unique. Embracing it helped me to be more confident and love myself more.”

Those years are what led her to her current career path. Castro worked closely with the media and fell in love with the behind-the-scenes process of interviewing and storytelling. Now her day-to-day in the communications field includes raising awareness for children’s mental health issues.

Chernicoff – senior communication specialist for the National Forensic Science Technology Center at FIU –  helps spread the news of scientific discovery.

She is committed and persistent in her efforts to promote the work of NFSTC, FIU International Forensic Research Institute and the Global Forensic and Justice Center.

For her, persistence was always key. While she’s danced for as long as she’s walked, she went through various auditions across multiple teams until she landed a spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheer team from 2015-2017.

She auditioned for both the NBA and NHL twice, and the NFL six times before making it.

“It was hard to hear no all those times,” Chernicoff said. “But each time I came back with more confidence and better ability until I left the judges no choice but to pick me.”

These four women are proving interests can be as diverse as people and there is no correct path for a career in STEM.