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Industrial and systems engineering student dancers lift Ohio University dance team to championship

Marissa McDaid | Mar 29, 2019
ISE Dance Team
Photos provided by Jenna Knisley

Industrial and systems engineering student dancers lift Ohio University dance team to championship

Marissa McDaid | Mar 29, 2019

Photos provided by Jenna Knisley

Industrial and systems engineering (ISE) majors Jenna Knisley and Kate Vaughn do heavy workouts both within and outside of the classroom at Ohio University – they’re OHIO dance team members who recently helped the team bring home the 2019 Dance Team National Championship’s University World Cup Open Division Champions title.

Knisley, a senior and the team captain, and Vaughn, a junior, also worked with their team to raise 100 percent of their travel costs, via bake sales, dance clinics and T-shirt sales. Dancers since age two, the duo talked with the Russ College communications team about the ins and outs of defying stereotypes as engineering students who are also competitive dancers.

Q: When did you get involved with the OHIO Dance Team?

JK: My first semester of college. I was elected as a captain spring semester of my sophomore year and have remained in this role through my final season.

KV: I first got involved my freshman year of college. I’d watched my sister on the team for two years and wanted to continue my dance career at OHIO.

Q: What brought you to OHIO?

JN: Many things made OHIO a great choice – academics, dance, personalized classrooms – but the one thing that sold me was the beautiful campus and small-town feel.

KV: I’m a third generation Bobcat, following in the footsteps of my grandpa, mother, father and sister. When I received my acceptance letter, I knew right away that I wanted to go to a school that values their students. After visiting a few times to see both the beautiful campus and engineering school, I knew it was the place for me.

Q: Did you know you wanted to study engineering before heading to college?

JN: I knew I did, but I wasn’t sure exactly which discipline. It wasn’t until my college visit that I talked to students in ISE that I knew that the group-oriented curriculum and people-centric atmosphere was the perfect place to combine technical knowledge and interpersonal skills.

KV: Yes, I did. I studied in a program in high school called Project Lead the Way, which offered engineering classes and college credit to students who wanted a stronger focus in STEM. I took courses including introduction to engineering, principles of engineering, electrical engineering, engineering physics, and aerospace engineering.

What does a typical week look like for you?

JN: The team practices Monday through Friday from 6-7:30 a.m. During competition season, our practice schedule was much more robust, and we had several camps to prepare us for the event. We also perform at each home football and basketball game, which typically take place weeknights or weekend afternoons. Community outreach events such as clinics and fundraising events are also something we take part in.

KV: A typical week consists of usually waking up every day around 5:30 a.m., to make it to dance practice by 6 a.m. After that, I go about my classes and will usually have a slight break before I go to work at one of two jobs.  Usually we will have a least one game per week – typically weekends for football and basketball games – with an occasional Tuesday basketball game.

Any tips for juggling a schedule as an engineering student and an athlete?

JN: Being a part of a team during my college career has been a privilege I often take for granted. Going through the same struggle of early morning practices and late-night games between classes and studying is much easier when you have 17 other talented young women supporting you every step of the way. Throughout my four years, I’ve learned to make the best use out of my time and gauge my priorities. I had to make myself understand that being busy was going to be a part of my typical day, and because of this, I needed to make the most out of my downtime each day.

KV: For me, I find time management as a piece of success when balancing being an engineering student and an athlete. You have to find small breaks to do your homework, or stay up after practice instead of falling to the temptation of taking a nap. Getting enough sleep is also important, especially with practice being so early in the morning.

What’s a misconception that people tend to have about engineering or engineering students?

JN: A common misconception may be that engineers lack communication skills and have introverted tendencies. Throughout my four years, I’ve met so many different kinds of engineering students who do not fit this stereotype. The Russ College houses so many different kinds of minds. Being a dancer and an engineer may be an unusual combination, but it’s definitely not the only source of well-roundedness within the Russ College.

KV: People tend to have the misconception that we don’t know how to do anything except math and science. I’ve met so many engineers who are athletic, artistic and everything else in between. Everyone has their own thing outside of engineering, and I think that’s really important. But the look someone gives me when I tell them I am an engineering student and also on the dance team will probably never get old.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.