UConn biomedical engineering student doubles as a Patriots cheerleader

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STORRS–Brains, beauty and balance. Three traits that perfectly describe Alyssa Merkle.

Merkle is a senior biomedical engineering major at UConn, as well as a cheerleader for the New England Patriots.

According to UConn Today, a blog put out by the school, Merkle splits her time cheer practice and events and working with her senior engineering design team to build an incubator for testing cancer cells.  “We have our design down and we’ve tested our carbon dioxide machine and sensor,” she said. “Now we’re ready to make the first actual incubator.”

And despite her busy schedule, Merkle somehow earned a 3.8 GPA last semester.

“Last semester, it was definitely an adjustment, and it meant some time management, and staying up a little later some nights or getting up a little earlier to study,” she said. And by “a little earlier,” she actually means 4 a.m. “But everything has been so worth it that I really didn’t mind whatsoever. Once I got on a good schedule, it was totally fine.”

Merkle goes to practice with the other 27 Patriots cheerleaders twice a week for three hours. She also attends a six-hour rehearsal on Saturdays and then cheers for Sunday games.

Merkle was always a dancer, but didn’t cheer until college. She was the captain of the UConn cheerleading team last year, and a friend suggested she try out for the Patriots’ squad.

But her hard work isn’t over. Though she graduates in May, Merkle applied to UConn’s master’s program in clinical engineering–she wants to work at a hospital one day. “You’re in the biomedical department of a hospital, but you’re really working with the patients, as a liaison between the patients’ safety and the manufacturers of the medical devices,” she said. “So for me, it’s really about helping people.”

She knows she’s unusual, between cheering and being a STEM student, but that only encourages her to keep doing it. “I love that when I go to cheering events, I’m able to say that I’m going to school for biomedical engineering just to see the look of shock on their face. Because it does break the stereotype, and I’m happy to be able to do that.”

And she’s not alone. Many of her fellow cheerleaders are also studying or working in roles not traditionally filled by women. “Many of the girls on the team break the stereotype. We have one girl who’s going for her Ph.D. in neuroscience. We have a dentist on the team. We have a physical therapist.”