Similar to the Bomber Beauties, three titleholders from Ithaca College, this year the Miss America Organization had a unique potential to have three titleholders from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, across three different states. Dannah Laguitan, a mechanical engineering student, competed in Miss Central New York in August and placed 4th Runner Up. Adrienne Wilson, previously Miss Syracuse 2014, graduated from RPI with a Bachelors’ in Design, Innovation, & Society (Product Design) and a Master’s of Science in Ecological Economics, Values, & Policy before returning home to Honolulu, Hawaii. There, she earned the title of Miss Nu’uanu, and will compete in Miss Hawaii 2015. Michelle Denny accepted a job in Ohio after graduating with a dual degree in materials engineering and biomedical engineering. There, she competed in two locals and the season end sweeps, placing twice and going home with talent awards as well.
Recently, the Miss America Organization has began to highlight women in STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math industries. After speaking with these ladies, it becomes clear why an organization focused on service, style, success and scholarship might want to bring these fields to the spotlight. They are incredible.
Contrary to popular belief, they did not spend their college years locked in a library. In fact, the extracurriculars were what drew them to the college. Michelle knew she wanted to major in engineering, and still play lacrosse. Adrienne wanted an equestrian program and art club. Although Dannah, Adrienne, and Michelle had different reasons for going to RPI, they can agree that attending the private college helped to prepare them for the competition.
The biggest help RPI has given me has been resources and opportunities. My professors at RPI were very supportive of my interests and allowed me to take control of my education to fulfill my goals. Meeting experienced people in all fields and just having the opportunity to learn about anything I wanted was the best.
In high school, Michelle had participated in what is now the Distinguished Women program, but didn’t have time in college between studying for class, playing lacrosse, and serving as a specialized residence hall assistant known as a “Learning Assistant” to compete. Inspired by Angela Baraquio’s historic Miss America win in 2001, Adrienne had always wanted to compete but never thought it was possible. Finally, after turning 20 without competing, she entered simply to mark off a goal on her bucket list- and then she was hooked.
Dannah became involved with pageantry quite differently from her fellow RPI GEMS. She was 16 at the time, and invited to represent Miss Central New Jersey in the North American Basketball Association competition. She competed with Filipina-American titleholders across the United States and Canada, and was lucky enough to place 2nd runner up. When she attended RPI she competed in various pageants sponsored by local fraternities, winning many of them, and placing in the others. It wasn’t until witnessing Nina Davuluri be crowned Miss America that Dannah believed she was capable of competing in a larger system.
RPI has prepared me to think on my feet, solve problems innovatively, and communicate with others effectively.
Attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute not only provides the education needed to obtain a great job in the engineering field, but also the training to become local leaders and great titleholders in the Miss America system. Even though Adrienne is the only “gem” to secure a title this year, it goes without saying that we can expect big things from them all both on the stage, and on the field.
So who are the RPI GEMS…?
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Beneath the Crown: Q&A
Who is your favorite former Miss America or Miss New York?
Dannah: Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, is an inspiration to the cultural crowd, making strides in diversity and acceptance.
Michelle: Mallory Hagan. I loved how open she was and how much she emitted positive images throughout her title year.
Adrienne: I have a lot of favorite titleholders. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet all of them yet. (Her list includes Kayla Martell (Miss DE 2010), Myrrhanda Jones (Miss FL 2014), and Alicia Clifton (Miss OK 2012). )
What are you most passionate about your platform?
Dannah: (Modern-day Slavery) As a Catholic, I grew up with a strong belief that every person has the birth right to respect, and as an adamant advocate, I work to spread this message by educating and informing others that the atrocity of prostitution and child/unpaid labor exists, and it must be stopped. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more passion I can instill in others.
Michelle: The goal is to provide opportunities for girls to see career options in the STEM fields- helping encourage those girls who are interested stay interested, and also looking to stimulate interest in those girls who hadn’t considered it.
If you won Miss America, what would be your goal for the year?
Dannah: I hope to become a greater and more prominent advocate for anti-human trafficking. With strides in the food industry, I would take that momentum and work to publicize the importance of Fair Trade nutrition, especially with coffee, tea, chocolate, and ice cream.
Michelle: I would want to inspire young girls to be themselves and to be proud of who they are.
Adrienne: If given the chance I would absolutely love the opportunity to work or even have an audience with the White House and international institutions like the UN.
What would you say to girls who don’t think they are smart/pretty?
Dannah: But are you happy? I believe one of the greatest qualities is the ability to find happiness. To be truly accepting of yourself, you are beautiful. To always perform to the best of your abilities, you are intelligent.
Michelle: Give yourself time to love yourself. Focus on what you like about yourself and what you excel in. Have confidence in these things. Highlight them, be proud of them, because they are what makes you unique. This is where your beauty and intelligence will blossom.
Adrienne: I would tell them that that is ridiculous. The world could do with a little more self-appreciation and positive self-esteem and the first step in doing that is to not even comply to those kinds of thought processes. Confidence and wit will always be much more valuable than either of those things.
How can you get more girls involved with STEM?
Dannah: To inspire more girls to be involved with STEM, women currently in the field should show the creativity that strides along with it.. I think it is also important to show that studying STEM concentrations is no longer a “male” dominated field; with publicizing acceptance, you can pursue whatever you are truly passionate about and should not be afraid to explore your curiousities.
Michelle: Give them positive role models. Show them that it’s okay and celebrated to pursue a traditionally men’s field.
Adrienne: Exposure and Engagement. Girls should be supported in participating in STEM projects throughout their middle and secondary education with programs that link their current interests to the tasks at hand.
Do you think a Miss Rensselaer or Miss Troy preliminary would send a strong contestant to Miss NY?
Dannah: I believe a Miss Rensselaer or Miss Troy preliminary would send a very strong contestant to Miss NY. There are very passionate people in the area who would take the opportunity with MAO for philanthropic purpose. With several universities located within this region, it would open the field up to a diverse range of contestants that wouldn’t be afraid to break barriers.
Michelle: Yes. With any local program there will be a strong showing of intelligent, well spoken, talented, and driven young women. Who knows- she may become the next Miss America.
Adrienne: I’m not a huge fan of either of those names, but I don’t think RPI is lacking in strong potential contestants. The one thing I think pageantry can do for RPI is to more strongly develop a compadre among female students.