Photo Credit: Baltimore Ravens

Hello, Science Cheerleader fans! As part of NFL Playoff season, we are interviewing some of the current professional cheerleaders who are cheering their teams in the playoffs while also pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. Read on to learn more about Hanah, a marine mammal (dolphin) trainer and a member of the Baltimore Ravens cheerleading and stunt squad.

How did you get interested in science?
I’ve wanted to work with marine animals since I was in elementary school! I’ve always been fascinated by the ocean and wanted to do what I could to protect the animals that live in it!

Who had the most influence on your career choice?
My parents always believed in me and fully supported that I could do anything I set my mind to. Despite the countless guidance counselors, college advisors, and people who told me I would never make it in this field, I always stayed true to my passion. It took me 4 years, after I graduated from college, to get hired as a full-time trainer. This field takes countless hours of hands-on experience through volunteering and internships, but if it’s something you’re passionate about, never ever give up!

How would you describe what you do?
I work with a pod of 6 Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins (4 females, 2 males). The main focus of my job is to make sure that each of our dolphins is living its best, happiest, healthiest life possible and to inspire conservation of these incredible animals! By working so closely with these animals, we as trainers are able to teach them behaviors that allow them to actively participate in the own healthcare. There are 4 main categories that we teach to ensure optimal welfare for these animals: husbandry (medical/veterinary care), mental stimulation, physical exercise, and research. This is all done through the concept of positive reinforcement and is completely voluntary, on the dolphins’ part, if they choose to participate with us in these training sessions! Each of them is just as unique and individual as each and every one of us as humans. It’s our job as trainers to get to know their individual personalities (or “dolphinalities”) and learn their different likes/dislikes and reinforcement preferences. Positive reinforcement can come in many different shapes and forms for dolphins: food, play, tactile interaction (belly and back rubs) or even ice cubes! With all of the behaviors they learn, we’re able to work closely with these animals and on-site veterinary staff to make sure they’re receiving all of the components for the absolute best care. From all of this, we’re able to learn what typical physiological data looks like for this species; get how they interact socially; obtain insights into how they think; and learn countless other concepts. I learn something new from these animals every single day! Furthermore, the more we learn about these animals, the better we can help to take care of them and, in turn, help protect their counterparts out in the ocean!

How do you integrate your career with being a professional cheerleader?
The Ravens partner with incredible organizations such as Surfrider (an organization dedicated to the protection of our oceans and plastic pollution reduction) to spread awareness and participate in dune clean-ups at our annual Beach Bash event. I love that both of my jobs can overlap in serving the community and helping to protect our environment!

What’s your favorite part about your job?
The amazing animals I get to know, love, and help to protect!

What’s been the best experience as an NFL cheerleader?
The relationships I’ve built with my teammates and our fans have been truly unforgettable.

What’s one thing people would find surprising about you?
I would love to travel to Hawaii and Australia one day!

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