Racine native Jennifer Schmidt now has a friend in all 50 U.S. states.
Schmidt represented the Badger State as Miss Wisconsin last month, competing in the Miss America competition. She and 50 other state representatives (Washington, D.C., included) faced off at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, which started with the preliminary competition Dec. 12-13 and wrapped up with the final competition Dec. 16.
While Schmidt didn’t take home the main crown, she did win second runner-up for a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) scholarship, earning her $2,000 in addition to her $3,000 non-finalist award given to all those who didn’t qualify as a finalist.
“I think it’s a cool opportunity to be able to say I have one friend in every single state now,” Schmidt said. “I was able to meet very driven young women who have a very similar mindset. We clicked immediately and became a very close, tight-knit group of women.”
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Candidates contended with a private interview, an on-stage interview and social impact initiative pitch, a talent, which for Schmidt was a jazz dance to “Hit Me with a Hot Note,” and the red carpet event.
Her social impact initiative, “Diabetes: YOU Have the Control,” focused on resources, awareness and prevention of Type 2 Diabetes.
Emma Broyles, Miss Alaska, was crowned as Miss America 2022, and all of the Miss America candidates are scheduled to travel to Broyles’ state to celebrate her homecoming at the end of February.
Schmidt doesn’t know the exact details of the trip, but anticipates there will be a parade, gala and autograph signing.
“I’m excited to go to Alaska and be reunited with all the girls,” Schmidt said. “I really do think we’ll be friends for life.”
A ‘very challenging’ week
Schmidt, age 25, said Miss America was “a really unique experience.” The opportunity to compete at Miss America is always a unique opportunity, she said, but because of the surge in the omicron coronavirus variant, she felt especially blessed.
Miss Maine Mariah Larocque fell ill with COVID-19 during the competition and had to withdraw.
“It took the pressure off becoming Miss America and making the top 10,” Schmidt said. “It reminded us how special it was to compete and that not everyone did get that opportunity. We all felt for her.”
In general, the Miss America experience is “a very challenging week,” she said. The competition consists of long days where candidates stay up late and wake up early. However, it wasn’t a negative experience, she said.
“Once you come out of the other side, you realize you’re a better person because of it,” she said. “It’s all part of becoming a better version of yourself.”
She said the competition itself and all the months of preparing for it touches on just about every aspect of life. As a candidate, “You are refining your skillset. You have to be able to speak to your strengths and how you overcome challenges.”
She described being “very happy” with her performance.
“I walked away and couldn’t have done anything better than what I left on that stage,” she said. “If I wasn’t who the judges were looking for, that’s fine.”
The Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Organization said in a statement that it’s “incredibly proud” of Schmidt for representing the state “so beautifully.”
“Jennifer’s hard work, dedication and heart shined brightly during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase her talent, interview skills and social impact achievements,” the statement said. “With her total scholarships reaching nearly $19,000, Jennifer is an excellent example of how young women can reach their personal, educational and career goals by participating in the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Competition … we are delighted to welcome Miss Wisconsin home.”
Winning the STEM scholarship
Women who competed in the Miss America competition had the opportunity to vie for separate scholarships throughout the week.
Schmidt was part of a top five who entered into the STEM scholarship competition, which included doing a separate interview with a separate panel of judges.
Schmidt said winning the $2,000 as second runner-up was “exciting.” Overall, she’s pleased to return to Wisconsin with a total of $5,000 and plans to put that toward her student loans.
“That’s a pretty sizable scholarship that I’m happy to have received,” Schmidt said. “It was really cool to be able to be recognized for something that is both in my career path and relevant to my education. I felt rewarded for the hard work that has gone into my education and career.”
She holds a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She previously worked for the American Diabetes Association, but being Miss Wisconsin is now her full-time job. She works in donor relations and fundraising for the organization.
When her time is up and the next Miss Wisconsin is named in June, Schmidt said she plans to hopefully go back to working in nonprofit health.
She additionally plans to give back to the Miss America-type programs as a volunteer, coaching future generations. She said she “cannot wait” to transition to a volunteer and mentor role that so many women played for her throughout the last 10 years she’s been competing, on and off.
“Until then, I’m going to soak up every last minute as Miss Wisconsin,” Schmidt said. “We’ll see what the future holds.”