Before Nov. 16, Laura Dineen, Kate Wills and Ryleigh Jackson had never competed in a scholarship competition before. Once the evening was over, all three—along with Brooke Nixon—walked out of the Jack B. Kussmaul Theater on the Frederick Community College campus with crowns on their heads and titles to their names.
Dineen, 23, of Adamstown, was named Miss Urbana. The University of Maryland student was working out at her gym when she was approached by Sonia Bowie, the director of the Miss Urbana Scholarship Program, and asked if she would be interested in participating in the program.
A self-proclaimed program novice when she first talked to Bowie, Dineen now hopes to encourage other young women to participate. “Now having gone through (the program) myself, I just think it is such an incredible opportunity to get scholarship money and be able to be successful but also you can really make a difference,” she said. “If there are any girls that are interested in service and charity and being able to make a difference, I think this is an incredible way to change your community.”
Her social impact initiative focuses on disability inclusion as her younger brother, Ryan, has cerebral palsy. “That is something that is very near and dear to my heart, and I wanted to have a platform that relayed something close to my heart and that I was passionate about,” she said.
Dineen is developing a disability inclusion program that she hopes will be implemented at her alma mater Fredrick Community College. “I really want to be able to have disabled people to have access to college education,” she said.
For the talent portion, she performed a fitness routine. “I started working out when I was about 16,” she said. “I was one of those girls that could not do a push up or a pull up at all. I had no real body strength and only did cardio.”
As a homeschool student, she had to complete a fitness class. She was given some fitness DVDs and fell in love with working out. “Over time, I have become so passionate about it,” Dineen said. “It makes me feel really strong and empowered as a woman. It is something that I really love to do for fun.”
Dineen was shocked when her name was called as the winner of Miss Urbana. “For me, it wasn’t really about winning,” she said. “I was just happy to be there. I had never participated in something like that or anything like that growing up. I was very focused on my studies. To be able to win something after putting in the hard work and training for it, it was just a wonderful feeling. I am still kind of in shock about it and I am really grateful.”
Willis, a sophomore at Urbana High School, was named Miss Urbana Outstanding Teen. The 16-year-old Urbana resident first heard about the program from Emily Yi, the current Miss Maryland Outstanding Teen.
Her platform initiative focused on raising money and awareness for the National Niemann-Pick Disease Foundation in honor of her friend, Dylan, who died from the disease that affects lipid metabolism.
Willis was also recognized with an Academic Achievement Award by the scholarship competition for raising the most funds as a volunteer for the Children’s Miracle Network. “I wanted to give back because I really appreciate everything I have in my life and I would like to help (the children involved in CMN) do (activities),” she said.
Dancing since the age of two, her talent was a jazz musical theater performance of the song “Mamma Mia!” Willis dances competitively at Urbana Dance Studio.
She enjoyed her first experience competing in the scholarship program. “I loved getting to meet all the new people and because everyone was so different, I feel like each person helped shape me to be better,” she said.
Last year, Jackson’s dance team was invited to perform in the Miss Maryland competition. “I saw all these young women who are sharing what they believe in and I just wanted to start and share my voice,” she said.
The 13-year-old Germantown resident was named Miss Ijamsville Outstanding Teen. A Kingsview Middle School eighth grader, she chose teen anxiety for her initiative. “I deal with teen anxiety and I go to therapy for it so I just want to let other teens know that they are not alone and they can face this,” she said. “I think it is important because my anxiety started picking up in middle school with all the workload changing from elementary to middle school. … I think it is a very relevant topic because I think anxiety is misunderstood sometimes.”
Dancing since preschool, she performed a tap dance to Pentatonix’s “Hit the Road Jack/Hey Momma.” “I definitely loved meeting the girls at this competition,” she said. “It was great seeing other teens who want to share their voice.”
When Brooke Nixon was named Miss Ijamsville, she added another title to her impressive resume. The 19-year-old Finksburg resident who is a sophomore at Christopher Newport University, has previously been named Miss Washington County and Miss Baltimore.
While a junior in high school, she was active in Distinguished Young Women, a national scholarship program. She won Distinguished Young Woman Carroll County and was runner up in the state competition. Nixon was encouraged to try the Miss America program.
Her social impact initiative focuses on suicide, which is in honor of her cousin who took his own life when she was in middle school. “With this initiative, my hope is to spread awareness about the issue of suicide and to let people know that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help but it is really a sign of strength,” she said. “You can save lives by just being a good friend and listening to others when they are struggling.”
For the talent portion, Nixon sang “Let Me Be Your Star” from the television show “Smash.” “I think I have been singing since I have been talking,” she said. “It has always been such a big part of my life.”
Participating in the scholarship competition has encouraged Nixon to step outside of her comfort zone and develop many skills that will serve her for the rest of her life. “It has made a huge impact on my communication and leadership abilities,” she said. “I am minoring in leadership studies at school, so to be able to be a leader in this organization has been fantastic as well.”