Not all cheerleaders work from the sidelines.
As the founder of the Science Cheerleaders, Darlene Cavalier espouses a more hands-on approach to stirring enthusiasm. She and her group, ex-cheerleaders all, regularly appear at school assemblies and other public events in eye-catching outfits to wave pom-poms and deliver geeky cheers for the "citizen science movement."
The idea is simple: You don't need to be a scientist to be science literate. They encourage everyday people to get involved in research projects happening in their own backyards. And if they inspire some young girls to consider careers in science, math and engineering along the way, well, even better.
Cavalier, a former cheerleader at 76ers and Temple basketball games, is also an exec at Discover magazine and the force behind research hub SciStarter, which is essentially a project finder. People can use the site to get involved in real scientific research, from counting birds to sifting through images from the Kepler space telescope. Both SciStarter and the Science Cheerleaders are about opening people up to possibilities.
"Our government is spending a lot of money and energy in schools, trying to create these little scientists," says Cavalier. "But if they don't become scientists or teachers or policymakers, what role do they play in our society when it comes to science, or are they just left at the door? And when I say 'they,' I really mean 'me'."
After all, she was a communications major at Temple. At Discover, she started out stuffing envelopes. And though she eventually worked her way up to senior manager of global business development, she felt like something was missing. "What's the point of being science literate if you're not going to end up a scientist?" she asked herself. The answer: "To live your life making smarter decisions, and having a more personally enriched life by understanding how the world works."
She went back to school specifically to explore that question, creating her own graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania studying science, policy, education and the history and sociology of science. She set out to create a process to unite the public's desire to be heard, the scientist's growing interest in and need for the public's help to accomplish tasks, and policymakers' desire for public input and support.
At this Saturday's Science Carnival on the Parkway, the Science Cheerleaders will rah-rah through science-themed routines and promote educational activities. Their appearance foreshadows the nationwide "Big Cheer for Science" shout-out, which invites students across the country to cheer, shout and stomp at the same time (1:30 p.m., April 27), then check a seismometer to see if the needle moved. Earth-shattering? Maybe not. But it should make an impact.
The Science Cheerleaders perform as part of the Science Carnival, Sat., April 21, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., free, Aviator Stage, Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., 215-448-1200, philasciencefestival.org.