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ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Click here for Erika’s profile.

We’d asked Erika Ebbel to bring lots of props from her pageant days for her interview with us. And she came through big-time—it was gowns and crowns all around! (Sadly, we didn’t learn about a certain “adhesive” prop until we actually did our interview with Erika—then again… watch her “10 Questions” to learn more.) Erika couldn’t have been more gracious and generous during the entire process—following the main part of her interview, she performed various pageant-queen walks and waves for our cameras and even gave us tips on pageant interviewing (turns out you don’t have to talk about world peace—if only we’d known…). It was already clear to us that Erika was an exceptional scientist, truly committed in her efforts to find ways to treat and maybe someday cure diseases like Huntington’s Chorea and ALS. When we saw her do the pageant thing in our studios, though, it seemed like she was a natural at that, too. But she wasn’t.

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In fact, after her first pageant (the one for which her MIT friends volunteered her, as per her “Miss Massachusetts” video), Erika didn’t think she’d participate in any more pageants—that is, until a phone call with her Dad:

Erika with her pageant-queen garb in our studios

“I called my parents, who didn’t attend that pageant, because they were in California, and I told them about it. And I remember my father, who I was totally convinced would have told me, ‘Don’t bother, don’t waste your time—you have more important things to do.’ He said, ‘You know, you might consider doing it again. Did you learn anything from the experience?’ ‘Yes….’ ‘Did you have a good time?’ ‘Yes….’ ‘Do you see this as a way of improving things about yourself?’ ‘Yes.’ Big yes to that. And so, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I should do this again. I’ve learned a little bit. I’ve seen it once. I know what it’s about—and it was fun and I made friends.’”

Using the same determination that had helped her win dozens of science fairs and thrive as a student, Erika systematically figured out the steps she needed to become a pageant winner. And within a few years, she was the first woman from MIT to ever be crowned Miss Massachusetts. She explains….

“It was not about comparing myself to the other contestants and deciding ‘Where do I size up, relative to everyone else?’ No, it was about, ‘How can I improve myself, so I can be the best of what I am?’ You know, I will never be like these other people—I will be me. But I can be a better me than what I was. And so, it was three years of analyzing what I needed to do to improve myself, so I’d be in a happier place. And that’s what I did.”

And she’s got the tiara to prove it.

Watch Erika’s videos, follow her links, and ask her questions in the post below this one.