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Scientist Enters Beauty Pageant to Inspire Young Women

Updated: May 1

Alicia Schickle is a mission-driven miss congeniality. This marine biologist, artist and entrepreneur, is bringing science to the Miss Rhode Island USA Pageant. We spoke with Alicia to learn more about what inspired her to enter a beauty pageant and what she hopes to accomplish on that stage.

Alicia cut out and placed on a photograph of coral with wavy illustrated lines

As a scientist, it seems taboo to enter into a beauty pageant. Can you tell us what inspired you to apply?

I was often told I was too artsy to be a scientist while also too analytical to be an artist and I would have to choose between the two. But, I didn’t listen to that; I decided to embrace both and have found that my creative brain improves my analytical thinking and my science passion gives life to my art. I know I’m not the only one that has experienced this and I don’t want any young woman to feel they need to fit into that binary. 

To share my story and encourage others to challenge societal norms, I turned to a space that has traditionally, and sometimes controversially, represented society’s view of beauty and women empowerment. I knew very little about pageants, the people who participate in them, and their stories but, the more research I did, the more I saw myself in these women while also realizing I had an important story to tell on that stage, one that I needed to hear as a young girl.

When given the space to explore without judgment or fear, people, especially women, are capable of anything. As someone who has always felt the edges of the boxes society has tried to put me in, I am now stepping outside of my comfort zone to share and represent a story about breaking barriers in a space I hope to expand. 

Two photos showing Alicia in the lab running experiments
Alicia is a marine biologist at Roger Williams University where she is oftentimes found in the lab, mentoring students or checking in on her experiments.

What did it feel like to be accepted and has this process changed your perspective on pageants?

I was thrilled but I did not believe the news! I had to message one of the program directors to make sure it was real. I am not sure it changed my perspective on pageants, because I did not know enough about pageants to form an opinion one way or the other. However, it has changed my perspective about myself, what I am capable of, and what it means to show up authentically.

Headshot of Alicia with dark eye makeup and hand on her face
Alicia poses for her beauty pageant headshot.

What kind of benefits do you see coming from your participation in the pageant? How could your participation help to empower women in STEM?

I have learned so much about myself and who I am as a woman and as a woman in STEM throughout this process. I believe that my participation in this pageant will inspire many other young women by creating space for them to be truly themselves. I want to empower young women to know that they are worthy of pursuing their dreams, especially when those dreams break barriers in our society.

Had you originally thought of participating in this pageant as a form of science communication and inspiration?

I did. I am a professional nerd at heart, so I end up sharing my love for science in every space I occupy. But more intentionally, this is a group of people that I have rarely had the opportunity to interact with, and as a scientist and communicator, I hope to communicate effectively with as many different people as possible. It’s fun to talk to a fellow science enthusiast, but when I am able to speak with someone who didn’t expect to be interested in science, and see them receive that spark of joy, those interactions are much more impactful. I see the world of pageantry as a new space I can bring science and my love for the natural world to, and am excited to be able to share that with this community. 

Alicia stands next to her photographs and illustrations of Rhode Island's state coral, astrangia Poculata, or the northern star coral, in an educational exhibit.
Alicia stands next to her photographs and illustrations of Rhode Island's state coral, Astrangia poculata, or the northern star coral, in an educational exhibit.

What challenges have you been facing or expect to face?

Learning the beauty pageant walk has been a surprising challenge haha. But one of the bigger challenges I am facing is reshaping the image of a beauty pageant contestant. I’m putting myself in a new environment and am showing up authentically, which requires me to be vulnerable. It can be exhausting to feel the need to defend my choices and confront other people’s preconceived opinions about my participation in this pageant. I am seeing this as a communication and acceptance challenge that, as I work through for myself, will make me a better leader for young women when I am on that stage and throughout my career.

What is one thing you’d tell others who want to try these out-of-the-box forms of communication?

Go for it! These out-of-the-box forms of communication are highly impactful, especially with the goal of convincing people that they are, in fact, welcome in the scientific space. 

"There are so many different experiences in this world, and when we link the stories that are seemingly unlinked by taking risks and being vulnerable, we create a more complete and empathetic view of the world as well as the people who share it."

Check out more of Alicia's science and art on her website and follow her to stay updated on all of her science communication endeavors.

Black background with translucent squid under microscope

Macro photography image of coral under florescent lighting

Macro photography image of white coral polyp

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