ASU grad student says pageant training opened her world

Posted: Updated:
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

TEMPE, Ariz. -- All the brains in the world won't make you more interesting or make people hang on your every word.

An Arizona State University student realized she wants people to hear her ideas. She wants to change the world. So, she started practicing and that led to a spot as Phoenix royalty.

“We're looking for the gaps between people and we're going to fill that gap with our body,” Boyd Branch told a group of ASU engineering students.

Branch helped create this improvisation class to challenge those of a scientific mind to get close, sometimes really close.
 
“Huggy bear two,” he yelled, and the last three people tried for one last hug. “Give them a round of applause.”
 
The class uses physical and vocal improvisation to force students to be comfortable with themselves.
 
Self-described introvert Kaitlin Vortherms was one of the first students to take it, and she says it has helped focus her graduate work and open her mind.
 
“It's for scientists and engineers,” Vortherms said. “It might scare them when they walk in because they're doing improvisational exercises. But there's been research that has shown that if you do improvisational exercises, you are actually much better at communicating your science.”
 
Vortherms is a civil engineer. And before the class, she could tell you about the science. But she wanted to be more dynamic and have people connect with her work. That's when fellow grad student Lauren McBurnett introduced her to beauty pageants.
 
“I'll be the first to admit that I originally had my reservations about pageants -- stereotypes and things like that,” she said. “I was like, I don't think I can do it. I can barely put up my hair. I'm an engineering student and I like to hide in the corner.”
 
She knew it was time to quit hiding. Vortherms recognized it as a personal development challenge. She won the Miss Phoenix pageant in November and will compete for the role of Miss Arizona in June.
 
“One of the things we did every single training leading up to the pageant was practice onstage questions,” she said. “The first time I tried, I couldn't get the answer out. But over the three or four times that I did it, I was finally able to give a solid answer. And I was like, ‘Wow, I just need to practice.’ ” 
 
Her current crown is not so much a trophy, but a symbol of her transformation and the attainment of skills that will help her the rest of her life.
 
“I guess my take-home piece of advice is, take an improv class, go paint something, do something artistic," she said. "That will make you a better engineer, scientist, mathematician.”
 
It started with the improv class, and she now has the confidence to engage audiences with subjects she's passionate about.
 
“The improv class helped me put it into words,” she explained. “Then the pageant helped me take those words and present them to people.”
 
Vortherms said her confidence and speaking skills continue to grow.

Her platform for the pageant is reforming science, technology, engineering and math education so it creates more dynamic scientists.

Her graduate studies focus on helping engineers better understand how their work affects the human condition.