The young Wilmington woman crowned Miss Delaware Outstanding Teen in May is just about as well-rounded as you can get. ‘STEM Queen’ is the perfect moniker for sixteen-year-old Wilmington native Jacqueline Means, a pageant queen who founded the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative as a way of empowering girls through STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. So how did this Delaware Military Academy junior find her passion for science, along with a hobby she only used to associate with the reality TV series, Toddlers & Tiaras? We asked Jackie herself.
Q: How did you become interested in STEM?
A: One summer day my brother and I were playing inside when we started mixing whatever we could find in the kitchen. We pulled out vinegar and baking soda and created our own little experiment. After that, my mom bought me a lot of science books, and I kept wanting more knowledge.
Q: Tell us about how you created the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative.
A: My mom taught me to do everything in my power to do whatever I can to give back, so three years ago, I decided to combine that with my love of STEM. I saw a study that said only 29% of the STEM workforce is female, and I wanted to change that. I said, “Ma, I’m going to impact the entire U.S.!” And my mom said, “Jacqueline, let’s start in Wilmington and go from there.” Since then, I’ve been hosting Girls Empowerment STEM events where I introduce the girls to a variety of hands-on science experiments.
Q: How did you become interested in pageantry?
A: I used to think pageants were like Toddlers & Tiaras, but my friend told me she got almost all her schooling paid for through pageants. On top of that, I love that Miss America is largely about service. It’s been so transformative – I’ve had to come out of my shell and become a better speaker. It’s so much more than putting on a pretty dress. There’s an interview portion where you have to answer questions before a panel of judges. It’s given me a lot more confidence. And it’s absolutely a sisterhood; I thought it would be competitive and catty, but I’ve made so many friends.
Q: What did you like most about growing up in Wilmington?
A: I would have to say Neighborhood House, which is a community center literally up the street from my house in Southbridge. I was about seven or eight years old, and my mom said, “Jacqueline, you’re going to go teach chess to the girls at Neighborhood House.” A month in, the girls knew me, and they were learning something new every day. They fostered my love of giving back, and that experience helped make me into who I am today.
Q: What are you most proud of in your life so far?
A: The impact I’m having on the girls. I have been fortunate enough to receive several awards like the Governor’s Award, but I wouldn’t have gotten them if it weren’t for the girls. Seeing their faces light up when they see a chemical reaction or learn something new is amazing. When I walk into a room and tell the girls that we’re doing STEM, half of them don’t know what it is, and the other half know what it is but say, “What the heck? I don’t want to do this!” So, I get to change their minds. I want to be a role model and show these girls that you can be a young woman of color growing up in Wilmington and make something of yourself.
Jacqueline Means will compete in Miss America’s Outstanding Teen on Saturday, July 27, in Orlando. To learn more about the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative, visit www.stem-queen.com.