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One might not think that an MIT education could help someone prepare for a career as an NFL cheerleader. But don’t tell that to Rachel Peterson. Thanks in part to the indomitable attitude she nourished at MIT, Peterson is entering her second season as a member of the San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush—and that’s not even her day job.

“Succeeding at MIT gave me a confidence that I can accomplish anything,” she says. “MIT gave me the mind-set of not being afraid. You can really find creative solutions to any problem.”

A chemical-engineering major at MIT, Peterson was a member of three campus dance groups: MIT Ridonkulous, Mocha Moves, and the MIT Dance Troupe. She’d had plenty of dance experience growing up in South Florida, where she was part of a local dance company called Hip Hop Kidz, co-captained her high-school cheerleading team, and founded her own dance troupe, Party People.

“Dancing is so much fun,” she says. “Cheering is such a unique experience and something I knew I would never regret.”

Cheerleading aside, Peterson is putting her MIT degree to good use as a chemical engineer at Tesla Motors, the Silicon Valley–based electric-vehicle company. At Tesla, she runs initial characterization tests on lithium-­ion cells and evaluates their potential for use in electric vehicles. She’s confident that electric cars will one day be a viable part of the transportation landscape.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to be easy, but it can happen,” she says. “The key is to create an electric vehicle that really impresses the consumer. That’s what our company is trying to accomplish.”

Before working at Tesla, Peterson was a chemical engineer at Fluidic Energy in Phoenix and spent a season as a cheerleader for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

Peterson’s two jobs keep her busy, especially since game-day activities are only a small portion of an NFL cheerleader’s responsibilities. “It’s considered a part-time job, but our off-season is really only two months,” she says. “We’re in the community and we’re at charity events. We also have to re–try out every year. It’s definitely a full-year-type job.”

She admits she often gets a double take when she mentions her two careers.

“Usually someone knows one thing about me but not the other,” she says. “People are usually surprised, but if anything, I’m happy to break the stereotype.” 

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