Two Penn State students advance to compete for Miss America 2016 title

Two Penn State students won local Miss America crowns recently and advanced to compete for the title of Miss Pennsylvania this summer in Pittsburgh.

Sarah Fieger, Penn State Berks, was crowned Miss Southeastern PA and Kelsey Wettig, Penn State University Park, was crowned Miss Pennsbury during competitions in late March in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.

Fieger and Wettig are now eligible to compete for the title of Miss Pennsylvania. An orientation for that competition will be conducted April 30 and the competition itself begins June 19, with 11 contestants advancing to the final round and a winner crowned June 25 in Pittsburgh.

Fieger, 20, of Denver, Pennsylvania, is a sophomore with a double major in mathematics and statistics, and Wettig, 20, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is a sophomore studying advertising and public relations.

For Fieger, the local Miss America pageant where she was crowned Miss Southeastern PA was only her second pageant competition. She is working her way through college, holding positions as a teaching assistant and as a tutor in the college Learning Center, while maintaining a course load of 22 credits, and the scholarship money is a major incentive.

Her pageant platform is one that is near and dear to her heart ? changing the gender and minority gap in STEM careers. She has personally experienced the challenges, including a math course last semester in which she was one of only two female students by the end of the semester. Fieger plans to eventually earn a Ph.D. in mathematics education and teach at the college level.

On a personal level, while her boyfriend is serving in the Marines in the Middle East she wants to work to contribute to society through education.

?I always loved math but never considered it as a career path until I took calculus at Penn State Berks; I fell in love with it and I couldn?t imagine myself doing anything else,? explains Fieger. She believes she?s a more independent learner because she was home schooled. She still found time to get involved in high school sports and theatre; in fact, musical theatre is one of her passions.

?I took a year off before attending school, and I partially did that to pursue my acting and professional vocal career,? explains Fieger. Vocal will be her talent at the Pittsburgh competition.

In addition to her college studies and competing in the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, she is a member of the Penn State Berks Honors Program and Honors Club, and she has made the Dean?s List every semester that she has been enrolled at the college. She also received the President?s Freshman Award, given to first-year students with a 4.0 average, and the Science Dean?s Scholarship for math and science students changing campus to University Park.

She was decisive when noting her greatest challenge juggling the competition and life of a college student. ?Swimwear! If you attended college, you know that pizza just happens at least once a week,? Fieger stated. ?Trying to eat healthy and work out is extremely challenging while taking 22 credits and working multiple jobs. I consider ?working out? walking from class to class. I need to work on that one.?

Fieger said everyone at Penn State Berks has been supportive of her participation in the Miss Pennsylvania pageant.

For Wettig, the title of Miss Pennsbury was obtained due to a year?s worth of effort, as well as a persistent desire to spread an important message.

?I have generalized anxiety disorder and put off seeking the help I needed when I was younger because I didn?t want people to know and judge me,? said Wettig. ?I wanted to earn a title so I could step up as a public figure to show having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and to hopefully inspire anyone who may be suffering to seek the help they need.?

As part of her titleholder duties, Wettig will get the chance to speak to middle and high schools about the stigmas that surround mental illness. She wants those audiences, especially, to be aware of the statistics ? one in four Americans has a mental illness and suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the United Sates ? and to feel empowered to embrace a different approach.

?I want to start the conversation on mental health in schools to change the way people view others who have addictions, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses,? she said. ?Mental health is equally important as physical health. We need to create a culture that doesn?t look down on those who go to therapy or take antidepressants. I want to be a resource for anyone who has questions. I?ve become a very strong person by overcoming the obstacles that have been part of my life and I?m proud of where I am today.?

In preparation for the state pageant, she has been eating well, exercising daily, and working to balance her academics, campus commitments, and two jobs with the opportunities provided by the pageant. Her campus work includes involvement in Active Minds, a mental health awareness club.

While deciding what outfits to wear seems easy to her, she knows that even with practice, getting ready for pageant interviews can be difficult.

?The interview is difficult to prepare for because you never know what kind of questions the judges are going to ask. I?ve been asked fun and silly questions, like what cartoon character I most relate to and why, and I?ve been asked difficult questions like my stance on Planned Parenthood,? she said. ?You have to be prepared for anything and everything.?

The winner of the Miss Pennsylvania title will advance and become one of 52 women competing for the title of Miss America 2017 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September.

The Miss America Organization is one of the nation?s leading achievement programs and one of the world?s largest providers of scholarship assistance for young women. Last year, the Miss America Organization and its state and local organizations made available millions in cash and scholarship assistance.