Miss USA surprises young scientists in Jackson County

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - About a dozen young girls couldn't contain their excitement when a gray SUV pulled up in front of their STEM camp. Inside was Miss USA 2017 Kára McCullough who was paying a surprise visit to the Jackson County FAB LAB.

"I was like oh my gosh I was so excited because I've always wanted to meet Miss USA, and I didn't know that she was interested in all the science and stuff," said camper Bailey Ross.

McCullough's platform as Miss USA is to encourage women, especially young girls to enter the STEAM fields. (Yes, you read that correctly.) STEAM stands for science, tech, engineering, art, and math.

As a radiochemist for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, McCullough works closely with a diverse group of scientists. She says that by including the arts in with the sciences, it allows for more creativity in the field and breaks the stereotype that science is boring.

"Encouraging students to get into STEM should not be happenstance. We have to be there as mentors, as encouragers, as inspirers and show them that you can achieve anything and being smart is dope," said McCullough.

During the week-long camp, the girls have been working with 3D printers. And they're being mentored by female engineers from Chevron. Research shows that 3 in every 4 girls are interested in STEM-related jobs, but only 1 in 4 actually takes a chance and pursues it.

"Mostly because young girls fear that it's too hard, or that it's a boy's world," said Beth Chapuis, a strategist at Chevron.

But these girls are not afraid of a challenge. And the sure aren't afraid of boys.

"Some people think that girls can't be smart like boys can, but we can be smarter," Ross said confidently.

Bailey Ross has a goal to become an innovator in the world of veterinary science and she's not wasting a second to follow those dreams.

"We were using 3-D printers here to fix a turtle shell that got ran over as our project," added Ross.

STEM camps were not around when Chapuis was a young girl, but now as a parent and a woman in the STEM field, she is happy that more young girls are being given the chance to explore more career options.

"We show these young girls that you can be smart, you can be intelligent, and you shouldn't be ashamed of it. And it's okay to have everything because it doesn't have to be mutually exclusive," said McCullough.

McCullough credits her mom and her high school chemistry teacher for letting her know that she could be creative, beautiful, and intelligent. Now she's making it her duty to pass the message along.

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