Last Sunday, Sept. 9, recent University of Connecticut graduate Bridget Oei Irish step danced her way to second place in the Miss America Competition. The current Miss Connecticut, Oei flourished in the newly rebranded Miss America 2.0. Having just graduated from UConn in the spring with a degree in environmental chemistry, Oei spoke of how her experiences at UConn and her passion for Irish step dancing ultimately led her to success as the Miss America runner-up.
Oei attended the competition buoyed by two seemingly opposing facets of her personality: her love for science, and her love for Irish step dance.
“I’m half Irish and half Chinese,” Oei said. “So, getting a chance to do my Irish step dancing on the national stage was very important to me.”
However, while Oei was the only Irish dancer in the competition and was, in fact, inspired to compete in pageants by Irish step dancing, her platform focuses on providing opportunities for young women in STEM, which Oei had majored in while attending UConn and also participated in research in that field.
“I felt very strong because I came to UConn and I’ve had the opportunity to talk about my successes, really develop my resume, become a well-rounded person,” Oei said. “I could get up on stage and do a fine arts talent but also be able to talk in my interview about the research that I’ve done through UConn.”
This juxtaposition of talents and interests highlights much of what Miss America 2.0 is striving to encompass. Having recently removed the swimsuit segment of the competition, replacing it with a “red-carpet” interview, the Miss America organization has rebranded itself as a “competition” as opposed to a “pageant” and refers to contestants as “candidates.” This rebranding includes the new moniker of Miss America 2.0.
“We’re allowing the career-driven woman that may not be comfortable standing on stage in six inch heels and a bikini to feel that she can compete for these scholarships,” Oei said, noting that she herself has won nearly $30,000 in scholarships.
Although these changes seem like uncontestable progress, there are still some who take issue with certain changes. Furthermore, controversy surrounds the current leadership of the organization given that the previous Miss America, Cara Mund, called them out saying they controlled many of the opportunities she had been given.
“As a future physician something that is so important is goal-oriented work,” Oei said. “I think with the leadership that is current, the goals are there but the issue is how you achieve those goals, and you would never want to do it in an unethical way.”
Oei acknowledged that change often causes chafing, but the overall direction the competition is moving in does a lot to highlight the accomplishments and opportunities of women in new ways. Pageants have long inspired a number of stereotypes about vapid, beautiful women concerned mostly with sequins and hairstyles, when in reality, the women Oei competed with were intelligent, driven individuals looking to promote their various platforms with the opportunities Miss America could give them.
“I think that even the women that competed 10 or 15 years ago were just like that,” Oei said. “We just missed it, we didn’t talk about that.”
Now that she’s graduated from college and won Miss Connecticut, Oei will spend the next year doing service through her position.
“I’ll be doing a school tour, talking to young women about STEM exploration, getting them involved in science fairs and things like that,” Oei said. She is also a Goodwill Ambassador for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
After crowning the next Miss Connecticut next June, Oei plans on continuing to medical school.
Although she didn’t win the big title, Oei definitely showed up at the Miss America Competition with her own goal-oriented work. She dazzled crowds with her Irish step dance, spoke about her STEM platform and represented the kinds of graduates UConn produces.
“I really wanted to showcase what we were all about,” Oei said, “and really just make Connecticut proud.”
Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.