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Science & Technology

December 4, 2006
Volume 84, Number 49
p. 84

C&EN Talks With

Jamie Ginn

Miss America contestant representing Delaware is a chemical engineer, actor, and dancer

William Schulz

Jamie Ginn wheels her Toyota Prius into the parking lot of the Iron Hill Brewery in Wilmington, Del., to meet C&EN for an interview. In the passenger seat is a brightly colored makeup case, and in the back, a couple of changes of clothes swing on hangers. This is the first of several media interviews today for Ginn, who is also Miss Delaware, and she is precisely on time.

That's not altogether surprising given that Ginn is a chemical engineer on a six-month leave of absence from her job at DuPont, where she works in a biofuels program. Precision seems second nature to this busy and intelligent young woman who will be competing next month for the title of Miss America at the annual pageant being held in Las Vegas.

William Schultz/C&EN

"Miss Delaware is busy today," Ginn says with a megawatt smile as her hands sweep her hair from her face and press flat her immaculate teal-colored suit. She drives herself around the state and manages all of the personal appearances at civic functions and the like that are part of being Miss Delaware. She blends in with the mix of corporate types filing into the restaurant, yet there's no mistaking her poise, confidence, and glamour as a beauty queen. She absolutely lights up the room.

For lunch, Ginn, 25, orders a house salad with grilled chicken breast. She speaks with maturity, and her positive attitude is infectious. Ginn's smile disappears for just a second, however, as she confides that there was a time in her life when she was a geek. Incredulous, C&EN presses for details.

It turns out that Miss Delaware was in a gifted and talented program from the second to the eighth grade. In addition to the regular curriculum, she studied Chinese history and Greek mythology, to name a couple of subjects. After school, she took up sports like karate. "You name it, and I tried it growing up," Ginn says.

Almost without trying, she says, she usually swept up whatever academic honors were being handed out, to the point that she felt she maybe ought to put some awards back for other kids to win.

It's not the kind of thing that endears a kid to other children, Ginn explains. Like many gifted children, she found herself isolated and alone at times. She adds that other girls could be especially mean, blatantly excluding her from their cliques and gatherings.

But the pain of growing up obviously didn't deter Ginn. She says her interest in science and engineering began early and stems from her father's career as a mechanical engineer. She began entering pageants as a teenager, and by the time she went to college, she had racked up enough awards that the Miss America scholarship program was helping to pay her tuition to Rowan University in New Jersey.

These days, Ginn is hoping that Miss America scholarships will pay for graduate education; she would like to earn an M.B.A. But for now, she says, "my main goal is becoming Miss America."

Ginn says she took up chemical engineering because she thought it might be a path to medical school. Now, she says, her education in science is likely giving her an edge to become Miss America.

"All engineers are well-respected, and as a chemical engineer, I understand a variety of issues facing the nation—national security, the need to strengthen the nation's scientific workforce, and issues like stem cell research," she says.

Ginn says she ended up working at DuPont because she had an internship there as an undergrad. Her interest in sustainability took her to the DuPont biorefinery program, where she was involved with a project that aims to turn corn stover into ethanol fuel.

But her interests include other types of research, too. Ginn's younger sister has Crohn's disease, and as Miss Delaware, Ginn's platform issue is finding a cure for Crohn's and colitis, both inflammatory bowel diseases.

In addition to her interest in science and engineering, Ginn is also involved in the arts. She won a prestigious acting award from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for her leading role in a college play, and she is an accomplished dancer. To provide some income while she fulfills her duties as Miss Delaware, she teaches jazz, tap, and hip-hop.

With so many roles—scientist, actor, dancer, pageant contestant—Ginn sees herself as "a well-rounded person" who has been blessed with many opportunities.

As for pageants, does she think there's anything sexist about them? No, she says without hesitation. "I see them as an opportunity for women to develop themselves as competent career professionals." Ginn notes that at least two other Miss America contestants have studied science—Miss Utah, Katie Millar, studies neuroscience and Miss Wisconsin, Meghan Coffey, is a biomedical engineer.

As Miss Delaware, Ginn says she is promoting science and engineering education. And as Miss America, "I would love to promote women in science and engineering," she says.

At the end of the lunch interview, Ginn is pressed for time to make her next appointment. But she is not about to leave her interviewer stranded before a cab shows up to take him back to the train station. So in the meantime, Ginn answers some more questions and talks about the upcoming Miss America pageant on Jan. 29, 2007, to be televised on Country Music Television. She is preparing her talent routine and practicing for the 12-minute interview session. She says she feels absolutely confident in her abilities.

She says the part of the pageant that makes her nervous, though, is the swimsuit competition. "You have to stay poised while you're standing there in just a swimsuit," she says. "You are being judged on your physical beauty, and the judges can see it if your legs start to shake."

As the cab pulls up, Ginn flashes one last smile and gives a sturdy handshake before piling back into her Prius and driving off. For Miss Delaware, anyway, it's pretty clear beauty isn't just skin deep.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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