Most college students will spend the first weeks of summer break starting an internship, training for a job or – if they’re lucky – relaxing on a beach.
Stephanie Owens, a senior sport and exercise science major at Gannon University, will be prepping for the Miss Pennsylvania pageant.
Owens, 21, was crowned Miss Washington Crossing 2014 at a preliminary competition held March 22. The Pittsfield native will represent Bucks County when she goes up against 37 other women for the title of Miss Pennsylvania. That competition will take place June 11-14 at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh.
There, she’ll be judged on artistic expression (talent); presentation and community achievement (interview); presence and poise (evening wear); and lifestyle and fitness (swimsuit).
Owens said she has been practicing for each segment, particularly talent. She intends to play Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” on violin.
“Obviously everyone is nervous when competing on stage,” Owens said, “but it’s also very exciting as well.”
She said she understands that she’ll have to set herself apart from some of the most capable women in the state.
“It’s hard to not be nervous when you have a panel of highly educated and accomplished individuals in their own right judging you on your fitness, talent and poise,” she said, “but it all comes down to the end goal – being Miss Pennsylvania and getting a chance to compete at Miss America.”
Unlike Miss USA, which was founded by Catalina Swimsuits as a product promotion tool in 1952, Miss America is primarily a scholarship competition.
According to its website, the program “exists to provide personal and professional opportunities for young women to promote their voices in culture, politics and the community.”
The majority of contestants are either pursuing or have already received college degrees, and they must use Miss America scholarship grants for educational purposes.
In fact, the Miss America organization provides more than more than $45 million in cash and tuition scholarship assistance to young women annually.
The winner of the Miss Pennsylvania pageant will be awarded a $10,000 scholarship, with smaller scholarships available for runners-up. She will then try for a $50,000 scholarship at the Miss America competition in Atlantic City in September.
Owens said she is already benefiting from her participation in the Miss America program. Holding a title, she said, helps her advocate for her platform, which is the importance of music education in school systems.
“After Miss Pennsylvania – win or lose – I plan to keep advocating for my platform as well as the Miss America platform, which is Children’s Miracle Network,” she said.
When she isn’t in class or traveling for pageants, Owens works at Sara’s Restaurant in Erie. She also officiates for PIAA volleyball.
Becca Straub, Owens’ roommate, said that she was impressed by Owens from the very beginning of their friendship.
“She is the type of person that will get along with anyone she meets and will most likely put a smile on your face in the process,” Straub said.
Straub said she has watched Owens grow from the time she won the Warren County Fair Queen contest in 2009 through her first appearance at the Miss Pennsylvania competition last year.
“She will most definitely be heading into this year’s competition with her best foot forward and we hope to see her in the finals,” Straub said.
After she graduates from Gannon in December, Owens plans to attend physician assistant school. She said she might like to work in an emergency room someday.
For now, she’s focusing on the Miss Pennsylvania competition in June and enjoying the advantages that come with participation.
“You take away so much being a part of this organization,” Owens said. “Everyone you meet along the way has an impact on you, whether you realize it or not.”