Style, Service, and Science: Pageant Talk With Erin O'Brien, Miss Indiana South

When pageants come to mind, the conversation often turns to such stereotypical mainstays as evening gowns, swimsuits, and Miss Congeniality. Among those quick to defend and deepen the art of pageantry is Erin O'Brien, a longtime pageant veteran currently paving her way to this summer's Miss Indiana competition as Miss Indiana South. Spaces Quarterly recently sat down with O'Brien to gain some perspective on pageantry, style, and community service.

Spaces Quarterly: How did you get started in pageants?

Erin O'Brien: I got started in pageants just a few years ago after watching my older sister compete. I really admired her and the other contestants for their poise, talent, and dedication to their platforms, not to mention the beautiful evening gowns that I wanted to wear. I chose to participate in the Miss America Organization because of its commitment to community service. Every contestant has her own personal platform, but she also supports the Children's Miracle Network, which is the organization's national platform. The talent portion also makes the organization stand out. I love to sing, and every pageant gives me the opportunity to perform.

SQ: What keeps you coming back to pageants after all these years?

EO: I am able to grow and better myself after every pageant whether I walk away with a crown or not. Pageantry has helped me grow into a well-rounded, articulate, and mature woman. The Miss America Organization is the largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women in the world. Over the years, I've been able to win several scholarships to help me continue my education at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. I gain invaluable experience that will help me as I move into the professional world.

SQ: What is life like as Miss Indiana South?

EO: I've been hard at work promoting my platform, "The STEM Revolution: Empowering Young Women to Pursue the Sciences." As a computer science student at DePauw University, I notice the lack of female representation in STEM fields every day. Since I've been crowned Miss Indiana South, I've spoken to several groups of girls about exploring the sciences. I met with a local Brownie Troop, and after teaching them the word "STEM" and what each letter stands for, we brainstormed different careers that involve STEM. We then did a fun, hands-on science experiment. I also met with a Public Engagement Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as the Math and Science Partnership Coordinator from the Indiana Department of Education. From these individuals, I was able to gain invaluable insight into why so few women pursue STEM, and what we can do about it. My goal is to shatter the existing stereotypes about women in STEM, and to give more girls the confidence to pursue their interests. I want girls to know that they can achieve all of their dreams, despite what they may see or hear on television, in movies, and in books. I am a computer science student, but I can also sing on stage, volunteer in my community, be active and healthy, excel in school, and be Miss Indiana South.

SQ: What are your preparations for Miss Indiana?

EO: In order to prepare for Miss Indiana, I focus on at least one phase of competition each day. I continue my healthy lifestyle by eating healthy food and staying active so that I feel confident modeling a swimsuit onstage. I practice singing for the talent portion. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the four points of the Miss America Crown. Every crown awarded at the local, state, and national level has four points that represent Scholarship, Style, Service, and Success. To me, these four points are timeless, and something I will continue to pursue in my future.

SQ: What are you most looking forward to about Miss Indiana?

EO: I'm looking forward to spending so much time with 31 other smart and talented young women from Indiana. It's really inspiring to see so many others that are also passionate about what they do. I get to spend the week leading up to the big pageant with these girls, and I know that I'll walk away with new friends.

SQ: Do you choose your dresses and swimsuits, or does someone do that for you? What do you look for in pageant clothing?

EO: I do get to choose what I wear for pageants. Since I won my local preliminary competition, Miss Indiana South, I've been working closely with the directors of that pageant to prepare for the state competition. I'm so grateful for all their help and advice along the way. I look for clothing that makes me feel like a queen, and like a crown is already on my head. When I walk out onstage, I want my confidence to shine through, and I want my clothing to complement my personality. It's not about which girl has the most expensive dress; it's about self confidence.

SQ: Is it true that certain clothing retailers sponsor pageants and/or their winners?

EO: Scholarship pageants often rely on the support of local businesses that help in a variety of ways. That often includes clothing retailers who may help outfit the winner of the pageant. A complete listing of Miss Indiana sponsors can be found here, and sponsors of the Miss America Organization can be found here. I'm also very thankful for the numerous volunteers for the Miss Indiana Organization. It's truly because of them that so many girls are able to pursue their dreams!

Look for O'Brien in the upcoming Miss Indiana pageant in Zionsville, IN between June 19th and June 22nd. Further information can be found here.