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When Quality Meets Quantity

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 and Heather

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.

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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.

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“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.”

Chen

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.

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“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.

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Article courtesy the Scottsbluff Star Herald

“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.

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“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.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Jamie Chen on Facebook.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kool-Aid Days 2017 Krista Hinrichs

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alex Nervig

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!

Behind The Crown

 It all comes down to this.. Miss America.

Last spring I profiled each of the young women competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.  From 19, there is now one.

Multiply those 19 state contestants (in many cases, double or triple that number) times the number of states in America, plus Washington DC and US territories.  From thousands of young ladies who competed in preliminary competitions this year, there are now only 53 vying to become Miss America.

She’ll be crowned Sunday night on ABC.

Miss America

As a little girl, I’d sit eagerly at my TV, waiting to see MY state–who was Miss Nebraska?  And who was our neighbor, Miss Iowa?

They are both incredible young women who are well-spoken, talented, beautiful and as you’re about to find out, HARD WORKING.

Getting ready for Miss America is NO easy task.

  Megan intro  Aly intro

Photos courtesy of the Miss America Organization

Tuesday night, Miss Nebraska Megan Swanson and Miss Iowa Aly Olson took their first steps onto the Miss America stage in Atlantic City, New Jersey as they began preliminary competition.  It was a moment they’ve been preparing for, intensely, for months.

“I’ve pushed myself harder physically than I ever have,” said Megan, moments before boarding her flight out of Omaha.  “I’m in the best physical shape of my life, and the best spiritual and emotional shape as well.”

Megan professional photo

Thanks to Ashley Frantz and Twisted Lens Photography for the photo!

I’ve been in touch with Megan since she was crowned Miss Douglas County last fall (full disclosure: I’m a volunteer with the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant).  I talked to her the day after she was crowned Miss Nebraska.  I had the honor of hosting her send-off party and fundraiser.

megan and me

Every time I’ve spoken with Megan, her intent has been clear in both her words and actions; she is DETERMINED to win this thing.

“I’m just so thankful to represent the state of Nebraska, my home,” said Megan.  “To go there and win it as Miss America!”

I’ve only known Aly for a few weeks now, first meeting her in a Skype interview for our story, but  I don’t think she EVER STOPS SMILING–she just exudes positive energy!

“I’m just trying to BE Miss Iowa,” Aly told me.  “Representing the whole state, absorbing as many experiences as I can has been the best preparation.”

Miss Iowa

Thanks to the Miss Iowa organization for the photo!

Check out KETV’s story on Miss Nebraska & Miss Iowa ‘Behind the Scenes’!

For the last three months, these young women have been putting in 18 hour days to become the best version of themselves.  They’ve been in the gym nearly everyday.  They’ve spent countless hours rehearsing their talents (both are talented vocalists).  They’ve been up at the crack of dawn to travel across their states for appearances, interviews and fundraisers.

Aly and Megan 2

WHY?!? For a silly pageant?!?!

“Miss America isn’t just about promoting women to be their best,” said Aly.  “It’s really about encouraging every single person to find some lofty goal, whatever that may be, and to tell them to run for it.”

There’s also this ‘little’ matter of scholarships..

“The Miss America Organization is the largest scholarship organization in the world,” said Megan, a student at Belmont University in Tennessee.  “It provides 45-million dollars in scholarships each year.  That’s part of the reason I’m here.”

Aly, a student at the University of Iowa, will graduate with her bachelor’s degree debt-free thanks to the scholarships she’s taken in through her participation in the Miss Iowa program and it’s associated teen program, serving as Miss Iowa’s Outstanding Teen a few years ago.

“MAO has helped me become a better, stronger, more pulled together young woman,” said Aly.

Nebraska has only had one Miss America.  Iowa has NEVER had one.  Both Megan and Aly, hoping to make history this year, are already making names for themselves at Miss America.

Megan was named as one of nine finalists for the Quality of Life Award for community service (here, in blue.. yes, she’s very tall.. 6-foot without heels!)

quality of life

Photo courtesy of the Miss America Organization

Aly received high praise from the Twitterverse during preliminary talent competition this week and was arguably one of the favorites that evening.  (Click here to watch Aly’s performance to win Miss Iowa!)

Aly prelim talent

Photo courtesy of the Miss America Organization

Both know there are pageant ‘cliches’ in the world and many who disagree with young women even taking part in this system.  But both ALSO want you to know how hard they have worked to represent their states to make little girls and everyone else watching at home PROUD.

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You can help Miss Nebraska Megan Swanson and Miss Iowa Aly Olson make the Top 15 at Miss America through the America’s Choice vote!  CLICK THIS LINK to watch videos from all of the contestants and to vote for your favorite.  Voting ends at MIDNIGHT EST TIME THURSDAY NIGHT.

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Miss-Iowa---Aly-Olson

To learn more about Miss Iowa Aly Olson, follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  You can also learn more about the Miss Iowa Pageant via their website.

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To learn more about Miss Nebraska Megan Swanson, follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  You can also learn more about the Miss Nebraska Pageant via their website.