Tell us about your STEM and cheer background.
I started dancing when I was in second grade and immediately fell in love with it. I have been a competitive dancer all my life and wanted to pursue dance in college as well. In college, I was on the Kilgore College Rangerettes dance team and the Florida State Golden Girls dance team. After college, I pursued professional dance, where I cheered for the Atlanta Falcons for one season, then Cheered for the Arizona Cardinals for 5 seasons. Although dance has been a huge part of my life, I was always focused on my education first and foremost. When I found the career I wanted to pursue, I knew I needed a master’s degree to achieve it. After applying to grad schools and taking all the tests I needed to get in, I got into a grad school program out in Arizona. I knew in my heart I wasn’t done dancing yet, so I tried out for Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders and made the squad!
During my early dance career, I was injured and needed to have surgery. The professionals that helped me get better were so helpful to me through that time in my life that it inspired me to help others in a similar manner. I also grew up with a brother with special needs so I have always had it in my heart to work with that population. Being a speech-language pathologist is the way that I am able to use science to help special needs people improve their quality of life.
When did you realize that you loved science?
I realized I loved science at a very young age. My mom is a Chemical Engineer, so I think there has always been a little scientist inside me. I like to solve problems and figure out how to make things work in different ways than have been tried before. I also knew that the areas of math and science were not my strongest subjects. Dance didn’t come easy to me at first either. But I loved both science and dance so much that I was willing to work hard to get the results I wanted. Studying hard and practicing hard is something that has become second nature to me, and now I am able to apply these real-life skills in order to help people which is really the most satisfying thing I can do with my life.
Favorite thing about speech pathology or favorite experience with science?
My favorite experience with Speech pathology has been doing clinical research to better help, my clients. I love working with all different types of people who are different ethnicities, come from different backgrounds, and have different disorders to treat. No person is the same, so I have to rely a lot on the research to help guide my practice during treatment. Evidence-based practice is a huge part of our field and I love that I will forever be a lifelong learner.
How do cheer and STEM fit together for you?
Since I have always balanced cheer and school I feel that they go together well in my life. I use my time management skills that I have learned from dance to apply them to my practice as a Speech-language Pathologist. There are many life lessons that dance/cheer have taught me that science couldn’t. There are also things that I have learned through science that I can apply to dance such as the anatomy and physiology of our bodies and the ways that people learn movement. I take practices that I have learned through science and apply them to my dance career and vice versa.
Can you tell us about a time you faced adversity in your career and how you overcame it?
When I was first getting into grad school, I went to my professors and I told them that I was an Arizona Cardinals Cheerleader. This was common for me to do as I often collaborated with my professors in undergrad due to my sport and possibly needing to miss a class or makeup work. Usually, they were understanding if I needed to miss a class or get work done early and they were appreciative to know that I wasn’t just “cutting class” but that I was cheering at a school-sponsored event. I felt that this was the right course of action for me to make them aware of my sport so they could understand my dedication to that as well as to my academics. However, in grad school when I confronted my professors, they were not as supportive of my cheering endeavors. They discouraged me from having any sort of outside job as the program would be “cognitively demanding and time-consuming”. I was surprised that they were not supportive of my journey as an AZCC and this motivated me to prove to them that I could balance both. I simply told them, “I’m not here to ask you if I can or should be doing this. I’m here to tell you that I am. I hold my academics first and foremost and if cheering gets in the way of that then I will make the decision to put my academics first. But I have balanced cheer and school my entire life, and I don’t see the problem with trying to do it now.” On the contrary, I was very supported by the Cardinals to be in grad school. Our practice schedule was conducive to the members on our team having full-time jobs or being full-time students. Both professional cheer teams I was a part of required us to have a job or be a student in order to participate, and they created practice schedules that allowed for that to be possible. During grad school, there were times that I had to miss class due to Thursday night football games, or Monday night football games, but that was few and far between. I always made sure to have my work done early or let my professors know that I planned to be absent. Knowing this, I worked extremely hard to stay late at the library to complete work early on nights that I didn’t have practice so that I could have time for practice the next day. Other people in my program did not have jobs or cheer on the side and seemed to still fall behind or struggled to keep their grades up. I feel that my dedication to both areas of my life proved to my professors that I was not like other students and that I could manage to excel in both areas of my life. At the grad school banquet, I ended up being one of three recipients of the “Award of Clinical Excellence” which was voted on by my professors for students who stood out for going above and beyond. At that moment, I knew that I was able to prove them wrong for discouraging me to cheer in grad school, and my dedication to both academics and cheerleading was the reason that I received this award.
Why are Science Cheerleaders important to you?
I feel that Science Cheerleaders is an important platform to help us continue to break the stereotype that women who are positive, talented, and beautiful can also be smart. I think it’s important that you put your career first and foremost, and then when people find out that you cheer on top of that, it’s like WOW she can do it ALL. It should really be more of a fun fact about you rather than an identity. When people ask me what I do for a living, I say “I’m a Speech-language Pathologist” not “I’m an Arizona Cardinals Cheerleader” because although cheer is a huge part of my life, it’s not ALL of it. I want people to know me as the smart, positive, fun, & cheery SLP before they know me as AZCC Ashley.
What is one thing you hope our followers learn from your interview?
I hope that people learn that you CAN do both and you can BE both. You don’t have to just be a dancer, or just be smart, you CAN be BOTH. I want people to continue to do what they love to do such as dance, while also breaking the stereotype to prove to people that we are NOT one-sided. We are all very talented and multifaceted people who have many interests in life. We can change our identity because we have the smarts to do so. We are not just cheerleaders, we are therapists, diagnosticians, nurses, realtors, engineers, and much more. We don’t have to just be focused on academics, you can have a creative outlet too. Life is all about balance. Balance things you are working for with things you enjoy and use that as your outlet and motivation. For me, walking into practice each day meant that I didn’t have to think about school anymore. I could just enjoy being a part of my team and doing what I’ve always loved which was dance. I could leave my worries of life or academics at the door and pick them up when I left. Allow yourself time to be you and do something you enjoy. You can take the skills and lessons you learn from dance and apply them to your respective field, as well as you can take things you learn in your studies and apply them to dance. Find what your passion is and don’t let go of it.