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IU School of Social Work student earns spot with Colts cheerleaders while pursuing master's degree

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May 23, 2012

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Dedication and perseverance can well serve students seeking to become social workers so they can bring hope and aid to those they serve.

And as it turns out, those same assets that have helped Melissa as she nears completion of her Master of Social Work degree at the Indiana University School of Social Work at IUPUI also played a role in her four-year quest to become an Indianapolis Colts cheerleader. (The Colts ask that the last name of their cheerleaders not be published.)

Ever since she was an undergraduate student at Valparaiso University, where she majored in psychology with a minor in social work, Melissa has had to juggle working and studying. A job making home visits made her realize she wanted to be a social worker. “I just fell in love with it, and I knew that’s what I wanted to get my master’s degree in. I knew this is where I should be,” she said of the IU School of Social Work.

Melissa had been a cheerleader since she was in middle school and joined the cheerleading squad while at Valparaiso. The cheerleading squad was in high demand, cheering on men and women’s sports. Melissa said the cheerleading squad once provided the cheers at five events in a single day: at a football game, two basketball games and two volleyball games. Today, she credits being able to juggle her busy schedule to the time management skills she developed while studying, working and being a cheerleader at Valparaiso.

Then about four years ago, Melissa set a challenge for herself: to become a NFL cheerleader. “NFL cheerleading is professional cheerleading and is the highest form you can reach. It’s the Olympics of cheerleading.”

To reach her goal of being an NFL cheerleader, Melissa brought to bear the same determination, focus and commitment that have allowed her to thrive in graduate school. As a graduate student, she worked -- sometimes as much as 40 hours a week -- as well as taking classes. When her classes and studying were done, she switched her focus to becoming an NFL cheerleader and pushed herself to get into the best physical shape of her life. No matter how tired she might feel, Melissa was determined to exercise every day for at least two hours.

Unlike collegiate cheerleading, which revolves around gymnastics and tumbling, NFL cheerleading is all about dancing. She added private dance lessons to her aerobic and strength training sessions and lost more than 30 pounds in the process.

Last year she put her work to the test and tried out, only to be cut in the final round of the Colts cheerleading competition. While Melissa acknowledged stopping at Dairy Queen that night after the disappointing result, she then stepped up the intensity of her workouts over the past year.

Melissa returned to the Colts cheerleaders tryouts last month. This time, she was rewarded by hearing her name called, making her one of the 32 Colts cheerleaders for the 2012 season. She has already made two appearances as a Colts cheerleader, the first at the Colts' draft party at Lucas Oil Stadium and the other at the Mutt Strut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Melissa knows the day soon will come when she stands on the Colts field and looks at a crowd measured in the tens of thousands, rather than by the hundreds of people she has performed before in the past.

Melissa, who has finished her classes and is completing the hours required for her practicum, hopes to land a job working with children either in an outpatient or residential setting. But one condition of accepting a job will be her ability to have certain Sundays off during the coming year.