Miss America encourages Hoover students during GEMS event

Published 8:59 pm Thursday, February 8, 2024

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By NOAH WORTHAM | Managing Editor

HOOVER – Young girls at Berry Middle School were treated to a day of STEM activities and an inspirational speech by Miss America 2023 during the 2024 Girls Engaged in Math and Science event.

Berry Middle School in north Shelby County hosted the 2024 Girls Engaged in Math and Science (GEMS) event on Saturday, Feb. 3 with special guest speaker Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke, who is a nuclear engineer from Wisconsin. Students heard her inspirational story and learned about engaging in science, technology, engineering and math.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Stanke said. “I knew I liked math and I knew I liked science.”

Before her career as Miss America, Stanke reached the crossroads everyone reaches in life during college. While at Texas A&M University, she decided to go into engineering in college and after looking at a list of types of engineers, she chose nuclear engineering despite being told there was no future in the subject.

“I want you guys to hear a message that does underline this,” she said. “You’re going to hear no at some point in your life. You’re going to have someone tell you, you can’t do this or you shouldn’t do this. That’s not always reality though. Sometimes, it’s up to you to make your dreams happen.”

After continuing on with her dream, Stanke learned more about the field and its importance and relevance and stayed with it.

“The reason I’m such a passionate advocate for nuclear science as a whole is because of what I learned in that first semester,” she said.

She learned that one of the core reasons her father was able to survive two bouts with cancer was due to nuclear medicine. She said she also learned about other important uses for nuclear engineering, including power.

“I learned that 20 percent of all of America’s electricity comes from nuclear power,” she said

Stanke talked with the students about the various day-to-day objects and activities that consume power.

“I ended up really falling in love with nuclear engineering because I realized it was impacting my life in ways I didn’t even know,” she said.

She continued to share the story of her journey in life and emphasized the importance of STEM to the students.

“I encourage all of you as you continue to be empowered by math and science, because we love math and science, as a nuclear engineer I’m seeing how it’s affecting people every single day with generating electricity (and) with literally curing cancer,” she said.

She spoke on the moment she was named Miss America 2023 and how powerful it was to see the amount of support she received from the other contestants.

“What I remember about that moment, about that night, about being crowned Miss America, is I did my walk, I got the crown and sash on—I remember turning around and I saw all 50 women that I competed with on the stage behind me,” she said. “I will never forget the look of joy, the look of love, the look of kindness and the look of excitement on all of their faces as they quite literally ran to tackle me on stage to give me a hug.”

As she concluded her address, Stanke encouraged everyone to be confident and to treat each other with respect by having the students repeat her words right back.

“Be confidant in who I am,” she said. “Number two, I will always treat others with kindness. Number three, I will always respect everybody around me.”

Afterward, the children were able to go and show off their STEM displays during the expo and take photos with Stanke before engaging in the rest of the days GEM sessions.