Mechanics, kinematics, thermodynamics and robotics are as familiar to Nirvana Daeonauth, as MAC lip gloss, parade waves and stiletto heels. Daeonauth, a 26-year-old mechanical engineer, is a recent graduate of Howard University. It was her Guyanese grandmother who gave her the name Nirvana, meaning salvation in Hindu.
On Nov. 27, 2011, she will join other young women in hopes of being crowned Miss DC 2012 when the pageant airs on NBC.
“I have been dedicated to my studies and achieving. I am a mechanical engineer, who enjoys the challenge of achieving in a predominately male field, and I want to challenge other girls and young women to do the same,” said Daeonauth this past Saturday at a Ward 4 ANC campaign event at Ideal public charter school in Northwest D.C.
She told the audience that for her, math and science represent “freedom and opportunity to explore and develop new and emerging technology.”
Although beauty pageants may arguably be seen as an anachronism that continues to objectify women by emphasizing superficial characteristics, her platform to encourage math, science, and technology education reflects the substantive side of pageantry.
Daeonauth, a Ward 4 resident, is a fighter. She overcame her brother’s unsolved homicide in 2005, emerged from a struggling, single-parent home and transcended her own difficulties with math and science to attain a mechanical engineering degree from Howard.
At a time when American youth can often name more reality stars than planets in our solar system, and Americans are losing global dominance in the job market due in part to diminished math and science skills, if a young pageant ingenue can encourage Americans to pursue math, science and technology, then more power to the pageant.
According to The National Academies, “[t]he outlook for America's ability to compete for quality jobs in the global economy has continued to deteriorate in the last five years, and the nation needs a sustained investment in education and basic research to keep from slipping further.”
Affirming the apparent lack of awareness of our readiness for any global domination, is their finding that American 12th graders are near the bottom of students from 20 nations in advanced math and physics.
The statistics are even bleaker for low-income and minority students who evidence substantial achievement gaps when compared with their white peers.
According to the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools, barely 12 percent of African-American eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white eight-grade boys.
As for girls, the American Association of University Women, found that girls’ performance in math and science is negatively impacted by reinforced stereotypes that boys are better than girls in math. The organization finds that institutions of higher education are not faring well in attracting young women to competitive math and science fields.
Beauty pageant contestants often have weighty platforms and showcase amazing talents and virtuosity in areas such as piano and ballet. This year’s Ms. Universe, Miss Angola, Leila Lopes, who is championing HIV/AIDS, humbly thanked God for her physical blessings and health.
Celebrated talk show host and network owner Oprah Winfrey, actress Halle Berry, and newscaster Diane Sawyer are all a part of the coveted list of beauty pageant winners.
These objectifying pageants of flesh, pump and festivity are also often launching pads for extremely driven, intelligent, and successful women. That’s where I see Nirvana—with her magical combination of not only beauty and charm, but matching intelligennce and drive—charting.
When Daeonauth, with her cascading sable hair and hazel eyes, alights the pageant stage to champion renewed investment in math and science education as our nation shifts into a new technological, non-industrial economy, will the audience and judges be heeding or admiring?
It is my prediction that the multidimensional Daeonauth—with her grace, rationale, and eloquence—will prove to be just what this country needs at a time when the nation is battling for it place on the global stage, a successful ambassador for math, science and technology education, and not just another pretty face.
Joy Freeman-Coulbary, a Washingtonian, is a civil rights attorney. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @enJOYJFC