When Kate Coker tells people she is both a member of the Cyclone Cheer Squad and a chemical engineering student, most have a hard time believing her. Being a member of a travel-intensive and time-consuming team, while managing to be successful in a challenging undergraduate major, sounds more than overwhelming for most students. Coker employs time management and lessons learned from both the field and the lab to make it work.
Now in her sophomore year, Coker came to Iowa State fully knowing she wanted to be a chemical engineer. During her high school days in Denver, Colo., Coker was enrolled in a several advanced placement chemistry and math courses and was an aide for her honors chemistry teacher. Cheerleading was present during those years, as well, although it was not nearly as time-demanding as it is now.
In addition to traveling to all the away games with the football team and being on the field at all home games, Coker has been involved in the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) and Society of Women Engineers (SWE) learning communities. SWE involves meetings every other week where companies visit to talk about their engineers’ roles within the organization.
To balance her activities, Coker devotes much of her free-time to schoolwork. “If I don’t have games on the weekends, I’m normally doing homework,” she said. “When I travel to away games I spend my time on the buses and planes doing homework.” Coker also receives help from study groups and tutors to ensure that she’s not falling behind or getting lost in the material.
Despite the rigors of balancing her interests, cheerleading is something Coker says she plans on doing until she graduates from Iowa State. Once football season ends, she will cheer at both men’s and women’s basketball games. Her offseason begins once those seasons end, which is usually around March. Offseason includes one three-day practice per month followed by camp in August with the sole intention of getting a bid to the Universal Cheerleaders Association Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship in Daytona, Fla., in the spring.
Coker’s goals beyond graduation and cheerleading consist of finding a job in chemical engineering and perhaps getting her MBA in hopes of opening her own business. She has begun applying for internships for next summer with several companies throughout the Midwest, including Cargill, LyondellBasell and 3M, just to name a few. Those internships are primarily in the areas of product development and process management.
The combination of skills needed to be both a cheerleader and chemical engineering student have helped Coker become a better-rounded individual and taught her a lot about humility and driving others to be their best.
“It’s a lot of leadership and inner-motivation to not just make yourself better but to be able to push the girls that don’t want it as much as you do,” Coker said. “More people are able to help me now because I’m able to take the criticism of what I’m doing wrong or what I’m not doing, and I’m able to give that to other people.”
CBE Communications Intern Dan Cole contributed to this story.