Erika N. Ebbel, who received the S.B. in chemistry from MIT in June, was named Miss Massachusetts 2004 three weeks later and will compete at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., on Sept. 18.
Ebbel, competing as Miss Apponagansett Bay, was selected as Miss Massachusetts from among 18 contestants at the June 26 pageant in Fall River. She will receive more than $12,000 in scholarships and will perform a year of public service on the theme of her choice--encouraging middle and high school students to participate in math and science. She also won the $1,000 Miss America Community Service Award.
Perseverance paid off for Ebbel. She first competed in the Miss Massachusetts contest in 2002, having never before entered a pageant, and finished as second runner-up. She entered again in 2003 and was first runner-up. This year, she took first place in the interview, talent and swimsuit portions of the contest. For the talent portion, Ebbel, who is an accomplished classical pianist, played Chopin's "Fantasie Impromptu."
Ebbel plans to enter an M.D./Ph.D. program to prepare for a career in medicine and medical research. She is also committed to her duties as Miss Massachusetts for the next year (unless she is crowned Miss America, which is itself a year-long full-time job), and she'll use this summer to prepare for September's nationwide contest, doing everything from paperwork to planning her attire to thinking about how to answer judges' questions.
At Miss Massachusetts, 40 percent of each contestants' score is based on a 12-minute interview with the judges. Contestants are asked about current events, their community service involvement and other topics. Thirty percent of the score is based on talent. The remaining 30 percent is divided equally between evening wear, physical fitness, and two on-stage questions. At the Miss Massachusetts contest, Ebbel was asked about her position as a columnist with an international magazine called Wellness Options. Her second question pertained to her community service involvement. A similar scoring system will be used in Atlantic City.
Ebbel will have plenty to talk about on stage--in 2002 she founded a nonprofit corporation, The WhizKids Foundation and has started WhizKids programs at various schools in Massachusetts and California. Ebbel has also arranged numerous visits to MIT for young students through the WhizKids program.
Ebbel has a lot of work ahead of her as Miss Massachusetts--and maybe as Miss America. "But it's totally worth it," she said. "You learn so much every time you compete--the experience you get is invaluable. Participating in the Miss America system has helped me to gain poise and self confidence. My public speaking skills have improved, and I've had the opportunity to watch WhizKids develop and become successful."