Let's be honest: when we think of cheerleaders, several images automatically spring to mind. Ponytails. Pom poms. Short skirts. Rocket scientists with pilots' licenses.
Wait… what? Maybe not so much that last part. Still, aerospace engineer Summer Williams stood amid the squad at Houston Texans games through two seasons, riling up the crowds and cheering for touchdowns. The Kansas native tried out for the squad in 2005, essentially on a dare from male colleagues who wanted to meet the squad members and thought Summer could help them. She had a background in cheerleading and dance, so she gave it a somewhat reluctant shot and was selected as one of 33 cheerleaders from the 1,000 women who showed up for tryouts that day.
Blending rocket science with cheerleading often meant 18-hour days, but the payoff was priceless. Through Summer's service contract with the team, she helped lead a junior cheerleading program for 6- to 12-year olds, through which she was able to instill confidence in shy middle school students.
"I had no idea I had the power to inspire young people the way that I apparently did," she told a Sports Illustrated reporter during an interview last year. "Obviously my perception and opinion of cheerleaders has changed drastically." Still, she adds, "Beauty doesn’t last forever, and I’d much prefer people speak of me as an engineer."
As a child, the mortician’s daughter wanted to become a forensic pathologist until one of her 9th grade teachers showed the movie Apollo 13 in class, piquing Summer’s interest in being what she called “one of the brains on the ground (at mission control).”
She aced every math and science class in high school and scored a $10,000 Cessna scholarship. She took it straight to Wichita State University, where she earned her aerospace engineering degree and landed a job in Houston with Jacobs Engineering Group, NASA’s primary contractor for scientific support. She serves on the team that works to keep the international space station habitable.
"I just always wanted to be smart," she says. "I studied a lot."
Three cheers for that.
Source: Sports Illustrated
Photo Credit: Houston Texans