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Not many people can say they’ve competed in pageant competitions for scholarship, and I did not expect to be in the portion of women who have, but I am in awe of how well competing prepared me for grad school.
Midway through my first year as a calculus teacher with Teach for America, my mother called and suggested I compete in Miss Texas. Apparently, a TV news reporter she saw reminded her of me. This news reporter won Miss California and went on to win Miss America. I shrugged it off since I have zero experience in the pageant world. Then, COVID-19 hit. With so much free time to reflect, I decided to entertain the idea. I grew up singing and playing the guitar, so maybe the performance part was not so far out of my league… right?
Well, I called the Miss Texas organization asking if there were any local competitions left. They said there was one way out in Victoria, TX. Thanksgiving week, I left Dallas at 5 a.m. to compete in the “Holidayfest” pageant at noon. I placed and drove back home that evening for a total of 10 hours on the road.
This is how I entered the pageant world. I am floored by how much I learned serving as Miss Victoria County in the Miss Texas competition. While I did not win, I was so proud to have featured computer programming as my talent and speak about the necessity for women in STEM as my social impact.
And here are the important lessons I’ve learned from participating in pageants that I am bringing with me to grad school:
1. Show up 15 min early to ev-er-y-thing
During competition week, we were expected to arrive 15 minutes before every meal, event and rehearsal without fail. Being early is under-appreciated and far too uncommon today. While some argue there may be minutes wasted waiting if you are early, I believe it is better to err on the side of caution and ensure you show up to your scheduled meeting on time than apologize for hitting traffic or other surprises. Could you imagine showing up to your thesis defense late? Or showing up to a lab and letting your teammates down? No matter how small or big the event, show up early and you will be acclaimed for how dependable you are.
2. Be a go-getter
When you join Miss Texas as a title holder, it is expected that you obtain sponsorships, sell ads for the Miss Texas program and continue volunteer work within your community. It may not be required, but first pick for your position during competition week depends on how many ads you sell. Furthermore, reaching out to local businesses for ad opportunities allows you to make professional connections. As a grad student, leaning into your Aggie network, seeking internships and research assistant positions are vital to building the experience you need to be successful in your future career. As the saying goes, your network is your net worth.
3. Get a mentor
Nearly all title holders are expected to have directors. similar to a mentor, and it goes without saying that having a sage in your life will help you reach your full potential. Most directors come with winning a local title, but you can also find one on your own. Directors have years of experience in the Miss America world and have usually competed themselves. I truly believe that having a mentor during graduate school will give me the guidance I need to make strategic decisions from what classes to take to what opportunities to turn away or take on.
4. There is no such thing as being over-prepared
To compete in Miss Texas, you need to prepare for a 10-minute private interview, a 90-second onstage talent, an evening gown walk, a social impact pitch and an onstage question…on top of ensuring you have all your outfits prepared. You cannot predict what questions will be asked and you can never practice your walk or talent enough. Life throws curveballs! For example, two days before I had to leave for the competition, I received an email that my evening gown was delayed and wouldn’t arrive on time (hence rule number 1). I quickly pivoted by packing my old prom dress and a small sewing kit. I ended up hemming the prom dress in the hotel my first evening. In the same fashion, you cannot predict every question that will be on exams nor conduct enough mock interviews to get ready for your first post-grad job, so never stop preparing.
5. Supporting women is supporting the future
Being in the STEM world has led me to be in mainly male-dominated arenas. It was a new experience for me to be completely surrounded by women for seven straight days. I was nervous at first, but my nerves quickly went away after Day One of the competition because of the camaraderie shared between the competitors. Miss El Paso County is one young lady who comes to the forefront of my mind. I have little experience with makeup and she spent a whopping two hours making me stage ready for my social impact pitch. Not to mention every young lady was pursuing higher education and excelling in their academics. For this reason, I say supporting women is supporting the future because we need more women in STEM to diversify the workforce and thereby increase innovation. For those of you entering grad school, be sure to support your female counterparts that make up less than 30% of the STEM field. The STEM field also accounts for some of the highest paying jobs, so leveling the representation would make huge strides toward closing the gender gap.