Interview with Science Cheerleader Hilary Nicholson

Science Cheerleaders is an organization that works to confront stereotypes around cheerleaders and academics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Members travel around the country to speak at schools, festivals, sports games, on TV, and more, to help connect groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields. We spoke with member and national coordinator, Hilary Nicholson, Ph.D., who is currently a medical oncology research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School. Nicholson completed her Ph.D. at Brown University, where she also coached cheerleaders for the Brown Bears football team.

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Nicholson in her Ph.D. lab at Brown University.

1. Can you explain the idea behind Science Cheerleaders and how you got involved?

HN: The Science Cheerleaders are a group of over 300 current and former professional and collegiate cheerleaders who also have advanced degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. We aim to playfully challenge stereotypes surrounding what a scientist looks like and who can be an engineer, programmer, mathematician, etc., while also encouraging young girls to become engaged in STEM through citizen science projects and serving as role models ourselves.

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All Aboard the BioBus

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) has finally arrived, and brain-related festivities are kicking off all over the world! Getting an early start, the BioBus pulled over in New York City’s bustling neighborhood of Harlem this past Saturday. Crowds gathered around the display tables stationed outside of the repurposed, 1970s school bus and climbed up the stairs into the mobile science laboratory. braiNY volunteers passed out Dana Foundation publications and brain-shaped materials at one table, while the other table had diagrams, plasticine models, and microscope slides of parts of real brains. At a glance, one could easily overlook the fluid-filled containers resting on the table. But upon closer inspection, it became clear that those containers held whole, human brains!

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This year’s BioBus parked alongside Harlem’s busy 125th Street, drawing a large crowd of curious locals.

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BAW Partner Interview: Michael A. Burman

This is the third in a series of Brain Awareness Week partner interviews, in which partners share their BAW experiences and tips for planning successful events. Michael A. Burman, Ph.D., is a an associate professor at the University of New England in Maine, the K-12 outreach coordinator at its Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences, and also a member of the Dana Alliance. 

Burman_MikeThrough the Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences (CEN) at the University of New England, you regularly work with students in grades K-12 to encourage interest in STEM disciplines. How do you expand this effort during Brain Awareness Week (BAW)?

This is a great question. We really like doing outreach work. We think it’s important for both local K-12 students’ STEM education and for the long-term viability of our programs. Public support is critical for science and reaching out to the public helps raise awareness of the great things going on at the University of New England (UNE). However, Brain Awareness Week typically falls over our spring break, which makes staffing events somewhat challenging. Thus, we’ve adopted a two-fold approach. First, we engage in year-round outreach. Our 45-50 volunteers make an average of two visits a week to local schools throughout our academic year. These visits can range from a single classroom to seeing an entire 1,400 student school over the course of a day or two. This is really our “bread and butter.” We reached over 4,000 students last year in this way.

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