Newly minted Miss USA Kára McCullough (the second Miss D.C. in a row to win the big crown) will have a lot of royal responsibilities. But the crown might be even heavier at her day job — the 25-year-old scientist works for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where her duties are no stroll down a catwalk.
A spokeswoman at the NRC explained what McCullough does as an “emergency preparedness specialist” in the agency’s Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response: Basically, she reviews emergency plans for nuclear power plants to determine if they meet regulators’ muster (glittery gowns and bikinis are obviously not part of the dress code). A radiochemist by education who has worked for the agency for four years, she is also on a team that would rush to the agency’s operations center if something were to go south at a nuclear facility.
“The NRC is proud of Kára not just for winning the Miss USA pageant, but for her hard work and dedication to regulating nuclear facilities as an emergency preparedness specialist in the agency, ” executive director for operations Vic McCree said in a statement. “We are pleased that such a multi-talented young woman is part of our dedicated and excellent staff.”
McCullough, who grew up in Virginia Beach and studied nuclear chemistry at South Carolina State University, says encouraging women and girls to enter the STEM fields will be part of her platform. Her serious cred on the topic earned raves from the judges: “If you would have been my science teacher, I would have paid more attention in class!” gushed actor Terrence Jenkins, who co-hosted the pageant with “Dancing With the Stars” judge Julianne Hough.
But McCullough’s background as a government worker also came into play during one of her answers in the interview portion that has stirred controversy on social media. Asked whether health care was a right or a privilege, she invoked her own experience: “I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege,” she said. “As a government employee, I am granted health care. And I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have jobs. So therefore, we need to continue to cultivate this environment that we’re given the opportunities to have health care as well as jobs to all the American citizens worldwide.”