Greetings, Science Cheerleader fans! Please give your attention to Thera, a Golden State Warriors dancer who (like, me, Bart-the-SciCheer-Gopher) also speaks space geek! Glad to have you aboard, Thera! [Note: Thera retired from the Warriors in 2012.]
So what got you into engineering?
From as far back as I can remember, I was always a numbers girl. Math was my favorite subject in school because I felt like it came easy to me and the answers to problems “just made sense.” Because of this, my high school counselor recommended I study either math or engineering in college. So when the time came, I enrolled in both. Not only was the engineering class much more intriguing with more life-relatable problems, but at the same time, I had been spending a lot of time with my older brother who had picked up a new hobby in car stereos. My brother is a very enthusiastic person. He has this great quality where he can get others around him to feed off of his excitement; including me. When he spoke about transformers, circuits, and how he was going to get equal amounts of sound waves to travel to the driver’s seat from all four speakers in the car, I wanted to be there to understand and help. This greatly influenced me to study electrical engineering.
You have a degree in electrical engineering. Where did you go to school?
I received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. Go Lions! (I also have a minor in Business.)
Favorite and/or least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degree? Why?
I enjoyed all my classes! Some were more challenging than others and sometimes I really wanted to pull my hair out when I couldn’t figure out the answers to some problems. But, when I did find the solutions, nothing felt better than feeling accomplished and I finally realized that was exactly what engineering was about; problem solving. If I had to choose a favorite course, it would be Electromagnetic Physics or any of my lab classes. In these classes, I could physically see how electrical engineering could be used in real-life situations. I also love being hands-on! In one of my lab classes, I was able to build my own traffic light design! Now, I understand how they work and no longer get frustrated when I’m stuck at a red light.
You work on failure analyses at a satellite company. What’s that process like, and what is your role? Also, since I’m a space geek, I’m curious: what types of failures do satellites usually experience, and what causes them?
Beware: Nerd Alert! Because of the countless components that go into a satellite, there are several stages in the assembly process where a test will take place to avoid any time-consuming rework. For example, a capacitor will need to be tested to make sure it is built to its proper specifications. If the device is properly built, it will be placed into a hybrid (along with other components) and be tested to make sure it was built correctly. The hybrid would then be installed onto a PC board and another test will occur. This process continues as the structure becomes larger and larger and the satellite is built in its entirety. If the PC board fails an electrical test, we can go back to see where the failure occurred before it’s built into a larger unit. And, due to the previous tests, we know the failure occurred after the hybrid was built. If we built the entire satellite before any testing, we wouldn’t know how far back to go in the assembly process in order to catch where the failure occurred. My job, in the Reliability Physics Lab, is to determine why certain parts fail in order to avoid any future problems. Note: sometimes the failures are not electrical related. A broken cable could be submitted to the lab where the surface of the break would be inspected. Possible reasons for the broken cable could be (1) the cable was physically bent much further than its rated tensile strength, (2) it could have been pulled too hard, rather than being bent, or (3) the cable could have been influenced by a temperature (too hot or too cold) and effect the specified tensile strength.
Best part of your day job?
The best part of my job is knowing that I’m actually helping the world stay connected! The main uses of satellites are for communication purposes. I was in a long-distance relationship for five years and video chatting was just beginning to emerge. I loved being able to see him everyday; it was comforting to the heart.
You’ve been cheering for the Golden State Warriors for the last five years. What made you decide to try out to be a professional cheerleader?
I’ve been dancing since the age of 4 which started with a few Ballet and Tap classes. I’ve always loved to dance but never thought to take it in a professional manner. So when I moved to Los Angeles for school, it was quite a culture shock to find so many people striving to make dance a career. I only was slightly influenced by those friends. I never auditioned for any concert tour or music videos, but I did enroll in a lot dance classes in Hollywood. It was definitely enough to fulfill my dance needs at the time. After I graduated college, I found my incredible engineering opportunity in Palo Alto and left the Hollywood dance scene. But, after a few months of no dancing, the itch was coming back and I was on the hunt for some good dance classes. Nothing compared to what I was taking in Los Angeles. At the same time, the Golden State Warriors were in the NBA playoffs. My friends and I were lucky enough to get tickets to a game. I had gone to several games in the past but this was the game where the Warrior Girls’ performance had first caught my eye. I don’t know if it was because the new director had changed the style or if I just had this dying need to dance, but when I saw the group of 18 girls perform, I thought to myself, “I could do that.”
Which came first, your interest in engineering or cheerleading?
My love for dance definitely came before my interest in anything analytical. But, on a professional level, my interest in engineering came before my interest in cheerleading.
How do your fellow cheerleaders accept your interest in engineering?
They love it! They call me the Rocket Scientist! (I use to work failure analyses for an aerospace defense company and the label just stuck. I guess a “Satellite Engineer” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily.) We’re all intelligent girls on the team, but I’m the honorary geek and I love it!
Do you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helped or hindered your studies or professional experiences?
I think in the past, stereotypes played a bigger part in the world, but now, if you break through them, people look up to you and admire it! Sometimes, though, I can feel a little judgement when I meet new people, but it all goes away once we start talking. Being a Warrior Girl while being an electrical engineer has helped me become more confident in myself, ignore negativity, and want to share my experiences so others can do the same.
Best cheerleading experience?
There are countless memorable experiences I’ve had with the Warrior Girls. The hospital visits are always the most rewarding because when you’re sick, all you want to do is forget about how miserable you feel and a visit from the Warrior Girls can do just that. It feels so wonderful being able to bring smiles to not only the patients’ faces, but also to their family’s because they just want their loved ones to be happy too. Also, I have had the opportunity to travel to Japan to perform at the BJ (Basketball Japan) League finals, but more importantly, also hosted dance clinics to the children out there. I love hosting dance clinics because it’s where the Warrior Girls can interact with the fans and really become that positive role model for them. It was just an amazing feeling to be able to do the same thing overseas and with a language barrier.
Best engineering-related experience?
A lot of what I do is performed at the most basic level of the assembly process so I rarely get to see where all my work goes to. Occasionally, though, failures occur at a level where it can’t be transported very easily and I’ve gotten the opportunity to see larger units where I can imagine it on the actual satellite! My favorite I’ve worked on, so far, has been the solar panels. Those things are huge! Also, when a satellite has been successfully built, my company throws a little viewing party of the launch. There are several launching locations, including China and Russia, so sometimes the viewing parties are at very obscure times of the day and sometimes it’s during lunch hour at work. A lot of my work is proprietary but, when the launching viewing parties just happen to be on a Saturday morning, my company allows the employees to invite their family and friends. After three years of working at my company, I was lucky enough to bring a few of my family members to experience this and they were thoroughly impressed with what they saw. Imagine… I could have worked on the satellite that the SiriusXM Radio in your car is using right now!
If you could rewind the clock and change your degree, would you?
I wouldn’t change my degree! I love what I have learned from engineering. During graduation, one of my professors told me, “You won’t remember the formulas or the equations you read in your text books, but your mind has been trained to solve problems.” Problem solving has become one of my strongest characteristics and has helped me a lot in life technically, physically, and emotionally. Without it, I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today.
Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream and another?
I would tell them to re-evaluate their two dreams. They might realize that it’s actually one really big one.
Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
(1) Have good intentions because good things happen to good people.
(2) Don’t doubt yourself. Stay confident with who you are and what you want to do.
(3) Don’t worry what others think of you, because what you think of yourself is what really matters.
What’s one thing people might find especially surprising about you?
I love to eat! Sometimes people ask me, “Where does it all go?!?” I’m never afraid to try something new when it comes to food.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to raise a family! I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in my life to share with my future children and help them build their own stories. I also want to go back to school to study Bioengineering! My grandfather just passed away, but before that, I spent a lot of time in the hospital listening to the doctors speak about his condition and seeing the medical instruments work their magic. He lived a little longer because of those instruments, and now the medical field has sparked my interest.
Why do you want to be a Science Cheerleader?
Recently, after one of our Warrior Girl Dance Clinics, Nadia, a 6-year-old girl, told me she wanted to be a cheerleader AND a rocket scientist! Moments like those make me love my jobs even more. I have met so many girls who are inspired to study hard in school because they heard there was an electrical engineer on the dance team and I feel so blessed to have that kind of influence on them. I didn’t realize there were several other girls doing the same thing! One of the reasons I’ve continued being a Warrior Girl, year after year, is that is puts me in a position where I can be a positive role models to others. Science Cheerleader is a wonderful organization that has taken our good intentions to the next level and I’m honored to be a part of it!