Every year as a little girl, I watched the Miss America Pageant. I loved seeing these sensational women on that big stage on TV, showcasing their talents and exuding sheer joy when their names were called. I also remember my disappointment when it seemed Nebraska was ‘never’ called. Not exactly true.. our incredible titleholders won a slew of awards in the 80’s and 90’s, but we faced a 17-year semi-finals drought. We have had phenomenal titleholders in our state, but we are also going up against states like Texas who have 50+ contestants every year in comparison to our 16 or so. How do we encourage more local girls to try our program?
Two amazing women are working to find the answer.
Kali Tripp and Heather Edwards are the Co-Executive Directors of the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Program, Miss America’s companion organization for girls ages 13-17. This year, they’ve helped recruit 18 young women to compete for our state’s teen title, the most EVER in Nebraska. These busy women have been on a mission to not just ‘sign her up!’; they’ve scouted and invited in the best of the best across our state. As a result, Nebraska has become a force to be reckoned with on the national stage and across communities everywhere.
Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Jamie Chen
Heather and Kali ‘discovered’ Jamie Chen a few months ago, a striking young woman who seemingly checks off every quality Nebraska’s Dream Team looks for regarding talent, intelligence and service. Jamie got her first taste of the program at just 8 years old, when she was asked to perform at the 2012 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.
“It felt so right to be on that stage,” Jamie told me recently. “So I promised myself that I’d be back one day, not just as a guest performer, but as one of those ‘queens’.”
Even then, Jamie knew there was a great deal more to this world, and ultimately, her reasons off stage are what compelled her to compete.
“One of the key reasons that I am participating in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program is that it is not the stereotypical beauty contest,” said Jamie. “Instead, it goes far beyond that image to helping young women empower others. [This organization] gives us an opportunity to make a true difference in our community, to imprint ourselves and our message on the hearts of children not only in our own community, but all across the state.”
Disproving stereotypes is a mission Jamie seems to have been born with, shunning the rules of boys and girls for as far back as she can remember.
“I have always been drawn to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics.) Throughout my journey, I have been consistently supported by my parents and family, along with many of my teachers and peers,” said Jamie. “My story, however, is unfortunately not the norm: it is the exception. While the battle against misogyny may be a well-known movement today, its influence within the STEM fields has often been passed over. Girls grow up with toys and movies that value girls because of their appearances and ‘damsel in distress’ status. The daughters of our nation grow up believing that their true, inherent value lies in how other people, particularly boys, look at them. Too often, they go into fields that suit societal perceptions, rather than what interests them. This stigma, put together with workforce bias and the message that boys are receiving from society, ‘go out and conquer, even if that means being sexist and otherwise biased,’ makes for a deadly combination in the numbers of women in STEM.”
What you just read came from a 12-year old. A powerful mission statement from a young woman who is dual enrolled at both Scottsbluff High School and Stanford University’s Online High School. She’s Class President, a Student Ambassador, Captain of the Math Bowl Team, a national qualifier the national MathCounts competition in Washington DC, and oh, and by the way, she’s already scored a perfect 36 on her ACT and has been offered a full ride to UNL.. at 12 years old.
“I’d describe myself as a leader, confident and humble,” said Jamie. “Leaders inspire greatness in others and bring out the best around them. I hope to empower others to reach their full potential. Confidence is contagious. By believing in my own inner strength and finding my inner hero, I aspire to influence everyone around me to do incredible things in life.”
Any variety of incredible things.. like music. Jamie is not only a brilliant young woman (AGAIN, 36 ON HER ACT…), she’s a gifted musician, playing piano since the age of 5 and the french horn since the age of 9.
“I pride myself on being a well-rounded person who enjoys both academics, extracurriculars and sports,” said Jamie. “I am always willing to try new things, and I believe that this contributes to a large part of who I am today.”
A young woman who has visited schools all over her hometown of Scottsbluff, hoping to encourage her fellow students and provide them resources to achieve their goals. She created the Scottsbluff Giving Club for language and math tutoring, she cofounded the Scottsbluff High Science Olympiad program, and she cofounded Erudit, an education start-up offering educational resources for students across the US. Jamie has reached out to national organizations including the National Girls Collaborative Project and the American Association of University Women for ideas. Locally, she’s also worked with the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library to host STEM Clubs, providing her fellow students hands on activities and discussions to pique their interest in the same fields.
“As a contestant in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant, I have grown all too aware that I am now no longer living for myself, but as a role model to children everywhere,” said Jamie. “It has been a journey that I have willingly embraced; the organization has truly pushed me to become the best version of myself, to remember that in every action lies an example for everyone out there. I wake up in the morning thinking ‘how I live and what I do today might influence the way that another young girl looks at the world’.”
Now every year when I watch Miss America on TV, I keep my fingers crossed that ABC will do more to highlight what is outstanding about these women and how this organization rewards those gifts and hard work to develop them. That the new Miss America will receive $50,000+ to pay for her college education, and three state contestants pursuing STEM careers will each receive $5,000 every year. I still get nervous and uber excited about hearing ‘Nebraska!’ but now I am as confident in our chances as ever, knowing teens like Jamie Chen are representing our state. Thanks to Kali and Heather, our numbers are certainly growing.. and the quality of character is simply outstanding.
“It has always been my dream to become Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, not because of the crown or sash, but because it lends credibility to my work concerning my platform,” said Jamie. “The Outstanding Teen program focuses on making a difference in our world, and that is exactly what I aim to do. I hope to cultivate a message of ‘we can and we will’ in girls across the state.”
The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.
To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!