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No joke: This Texans cheerleader works with NASA

Posted: Wednesday January 3, 2007 4:34PM; Updated: Wednesday January 3, 2007 5:02PM
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It's the space station during the week and pom poms on Sunday for Summer Williams.
It's the space station during the week and pom poms on Sunday for Summer Williams.
Courtesy of Houston Texans

Summer Williams is a Houston Texans cheerleader. She's also a rocket scientist.

This is a true story.

"Well," Williams said, "I don't actually use the term 'rocket scientist.' "

That's what she is, though. Williams is a 25-year old aerospace engineer for the Jacobs Engineering Group, which is NASA's main scientific support contractor. Williams, a small-town Kansan, is an assistant project manager on the group that figures out how to keep the international space station habitable.

My dad's also an engineer. He once worked for Jacobs. And when I was in seventh grade, he told me smart girls didn't want to be cheerleaders. Which, in all fairness, is kind of what Summer Williams always thought too.

"There was a girl I knew who went to a top state university and whose aspiration was always to be a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader," she said. "I remember thinking, 'How can that be your lifelong dream?' "

Williams started dancing when she was three, after she toddled away from a baby sitter, climbed onto a stage, and co-opted the dance recital her parents, who'd taken a couples dancing class, were supposed to be starring in. Williams took up tap, ballet and jazz and did some clogging, and in high school she worked at the dance studio to pay for the lessons her performance troupe required.

In Kansas, most pretty girls become cheerleaders. All pretty girls with rhythm do. Except for Williams.

Williams thinks her dad might've once taken a picture with two Kansas City Chiefs cheerleaders at a state fair. And she did get goaded into giving cheerleading a try her junior year at Chaparral High. But, she said as diplomatically as possible, cheerleading "just wasn't my thing."

"I just always wanted to be smart," Williams said. She definitely was that. Her dad's a mortician, and her first dream job was to be a forensic pathologist. Then her ninth grade science teacher had her class watch Apollo 13 and she became "very, very curious about the brains on the ground."


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