From the laboratory to the stage

Miss Whitman County 2018 Jordana Dahmen is seen Wednesday at the WSU Exercise Physiology and Performance Laboratory in Pullman, where she did research as a student.

A Washington State University graduate and Uniontown native wants people to know that anyone can be a scientist, and she is bringing that message to Miss Washington in November.

Jordana Dahmen, a graduate of Colton High School, will compete against 30 other women from around the state Nov. 4 to become Miss Washington and qualify to compete in the Miss USA competition.

Dahmen earned her biology degree from WSU in 2017 and wants to use the competition as a platform to get students interested in STEM careers, especially those that do not fit the prevalent stereotypes of scientists and engineers.

Dahmen said she wants to "show that you don't have to fit in one little box because that's kind of where I want to redefine the way people think of science."

"You can be in pageants but still be a total science nerd," she said.

Among those groups Dahmen hopes to influence are women and minorities, who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers. For women in particular, Dahmen said more women are studying STEM subjects but too few are entering the STEM workforce.

Lack of diversity in STEM careers translates to a lack of ideas, she said.

"On projects when you have diversity of socioeconomics, gender, culture, you're able to get different perspectives, and that's where you really start to see innovative ideas happening," she said.

To do that, students need to get excited about STEM, she said. As a founder and president of the Undergraduate Research Club at WSU, she aimed to raise awareness about research programs that undergraduates might enjoy. And her main interest as a pageantry contestant is to be an academic role model for younger people to get them interested in STEM.

"I think it's important to showcase accomplishments of being involved in STEM and doing academic things," she said.

Dahmen did not always envision herself as scientist. She was simply trying to find a way to pay for college.

"We were a low-income family, so we kind of knew growing up that if we wanted to go to college, we had to get ourselves there on our own," she said.

So, in addition to applying for scholarships to WSU, Dahmen's older sister got her involved in a research job with the computer science department to supplement her income. After that, she caught the "bug" for research, she said.

Dahmen then became drawn to exercise science, specifically research into wearable technology such as Fitbits and pedometers.

She started as a sophomore in the Exercise Physiology and Performance Laboratory as a research assistant, then became project coordinator and finally a research coordinator.

The lab's current project is studying physical activity among pregnant women and the factors that can help or impede their physical health.

Dahmen is currently taking the year off to apply for Ph.D. programs at various universities. At the moment, though, she is focused on Miss Washington.

During the competition, the contestants will take part in an interview conducted by the judges, introduce themselves and be judged in the swimsuit and evening wear categories.

Dahmen must also perfect the small pageantry details that make a big difference, such as walking on stage correctly, knowing when to look at the audience and knowing when to smile.

Once the contestants are whittled down to five, the women will have 30 seconds to answer questions on stage that often touch on current events and politics.

"You need to know a little bit about everything, you need to know what your core values and morals are and where you stand on certain issues," she said. "They don't care what your opinion is as long as its an informed opinion that you're able to back up."

She competed in Distinguished Young Women in high school - where she performed a comical rap for the talent portion of the competition - and grew to love public speaking. She also missed being involved in something, whether it was clubs or class activities. So after "feeling a little lost" following her graduation from WSU, she looked into Miss Washington and liked what she saw in previous winners.

"They're very real girls and they're relatable," she said. "They aren't something unattainable. I think a lot of kids can look up to them and see themselves filling those shoes."

That was important to her because Dahmen said she was not the most "girly girl" growing up.

She wore a lot of boys clothes and skipped the majority of homecomings to watch football with her dad.

"I wanted a program that really encouraged me to be myself," she said.

She said people can vote for her in Miss Washington's "People's Choice" award, which will propel one contestant into the semi-finals. She also thanked her friends and mentors at WSU for encouraging her throughout her academic career, and in her new role as pageant contestant.

"No one makes it on their own," she said.


Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to akuipers@dnews.com.

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