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Beauty and Brains: Scientist and Miss USA Titleholder Kára McCullough Encourages Young Women to Pursue STEM Education 
By Brittany K. Jackson, Contributing Writer 
Published October 5, 2017

Kara McCullough during the moment she was crowned Miss USA 2017 from the District of Columbia. (courtesy of missuniverse.com)

Now that Kára McCullough has gotten settled into her role as Miss USA 2017, the 26-year-old retired Navy veteran and STEM research scientist currently spends her days inspiring young girls and women around the world. Check out our exclusive interview with McCullough below, as we go deeper into her life and passion for science education.

Los Angeles Sentinel – How did growing up in several countries around the world shape your perspective on life? 

Kára McCullough – Growing up in several countries exposed me to diversity and inclusion at a very young age. My mother was a chief petty officer in the United States Navy, allowing our family to live in different countries as well as experience and appreciate new cultures. My childhood friends all came from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and I’m so happy to be connected with them to this day.

LAS – What advice do you have for women of color who find it difficult to embrace their natural beauty? 

KM – I encourage women of color – and all women – to embrace what makes them whole and happy. The positive support Deshauna and I received after walking across the Miss USA stage with our natural hair went beyond my expectation. I hope that the women watching were inspired and empowered to walk into work or school that next day, embracing their natural beauty.

LAS – What challenges have you experienced in your role as Miss USA? 

KM – I believe one of the most important traits of growth is acknowledging that there will be challenges along your path to success. What solidifies growth is the pragmatic approach to solving them. Challenges exist, but I remind myself that I am in this position to carry out my mission to encourage STEM education in young women.

Miss USA 2017 Kára McCullough mentored a group of middle school girls from the Physics Wonder Girls Camp which is aimed to sustain STEM and Physics interest in young girls. The camp took place at the University of Sciences in Philadelphia. (courtesy of missuniverse.com)

LAS – What is the most gratifying part about being a scientist? As a woman of color, have you faced any adversity in this field? 

KM – The most gratifying part about being a scientist would be sharing my passion with students and seeing the growth and excitement that comes from STEM education. When it comes to the adversity women face in the workplace, there’s still so much more to accomplish. I’ve learned to counter adversity by confiding in mentors who may have experienced the same.

A special message to all the young women in the world: There will always be naysayers and critics, but a true testament is allowing your work to speak for you.

LAS – Tell us more about your outreach program, Science Exploration for Kids. 

KM – SE4K is a 501(c)(3) geared toward youth Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) enrichment that begins with our youth. We offer specific interactive science programs for participants in grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Our program focuses on teamwork, self-confidence, fun, and career exposure. Most recently, I worked with the NYC Department of Education to speak to students during summer programs. I am also working throughout the District of Columbia, where I continue to empower students to explore career fields in STEM.

LAS – In what ways has your life changed since becoming Miss USA? How have you responded to the spotlight? 

KM – I hold my title as Miss USA with pride. I love every moment of having a busy schedule, especially knowing that I’m making an impact in someone’s life. I have a lot of long days and long nights, yet every day is different. My influence is on a larger platform now, but I’ve always been aware of my choices so that I could become a successful person.

Miss USA 2017 Kára McCullough poses in a street style photoshoot for NYFW. (courtesy of missuniverse.com)

LAS – You competed twice to win Miss District of Columbia USA, in 2015 and 2016, finally earning your crown this year for Miss USA. Describe what motivated you to continue competing. Why is it important that women and young girls around the world continue to persevere?

KM – After competing twice and getting second runner up each time, I decided to give it one more try and put all my resources into preparing. I figured if I could make it that far, there is something within me that I need to awaken. It’s important for women and young girls to have qualities of perseverance and persistence because failure is often the greatest feedback for success. Talent can exist, but perseverance and persistence will always take precedence.

Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Brian Acton are a few examples of people who persevered and persisted.

LAS – We hear that cooking is a favorite past time of yourswill we ever see you take to the big screen with your cooking skills? 

KM – I would love to! I’ve always been interested in attending culinary school and sharing my passion with a bigger audience.

LAS – What do you hope to accomplish in your term as Miss USA and what is the legacy you want to leave?

KM – In my term, I will expand my science program and encourage young women in underrepresented areas to find interest in STEM. It will make my heart full if my STEM enrichment program leaves a legacy to the young women I’ve met. I want those students to find excitement in science and consider themselves in a future STEM career.

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