“STEM Queen” Jacqueline Means from Southbridge in Wilmington is already a First State celebrity.
She has shared her passion for STEM and encouraging young girls as a guest on “Access Hollywood,” “The Steve Harvey Show,” “The Today Show,” “The Q,” “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and as a series regular of CBS’s Saturday morning kid’s show, “Mission Unstoppable!” She’s been featured in an Essence web series called “Girls United.” And she’s a T-Mobile Changemaker a recipient of the Governor’s Youth Volunteer Service Award and 2019’s Miss Delaware’s Outstanding Teen.
Now she’s celebrating her first national pageant title after being crowned Miss Black USA Talented Teen in DC on Aug. 8. She is the first holder of the title from Delaware.
“I love pageantry. It’s taught me so much,” Means, who founded the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative at age 12, told Technical.ly. “I’m only 18. I know that there is a lot more pageantry has to teach me about becoming a young woman who can advocate not only for herself but for others, so I wanted to continue with my pageant journey.”
Miss Black USA Talented Teen checked many of her boxes. That’s not just because it’s the largest provider of scholarships for women of color and she’s early on the track to becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon. It’s also because of what it celebrates.
“It’s about having Black women define their own standard of beauty instead of trying to change themselves to fit the most common Eurocentric one,” she said. “It’s about celebrating women of color — their minds, their bodies their spirits and all shades and all hair textures and all sizes — and the individuality that we as Black women bring to the table. We’re all uniquely different and beautiful in our own ways, and to celebrate that rather trying to say you have to conform to this one standard, that’s perfect for me.”
It’s fair to say that Means enthusiastically embraces her femininity, something she does not see as being at odds with her STEM goals. STEM education was her platform in a competition that also featured talent (she did an African Jazz routine), fitness, evening gown and the sometimes-dreaded onstage question.
“I know for a lot of pageant girls, that’s their least favorite, but I actually really love the onstage question,” Means said. “I practiced really hard for and did a lot of research. It’s just like school. You have to study to know these things, like statistics and important current events and having potential solutions to those things. It shows how quickly you can think of your feet and what you stand for in a concise amount of time.”
When it was Means’ turn for the onstage question, she was asked what she thought the biggest impact COVID-19 has had on today’s teenagers, which allowed her to speak on mental health, another issue she feels strongly about.
Over the next year, Means will serve her Miss Black USA Talented Teen position, attending events and working with sponsors, including Black woman-owned fashion companies such as Liliana and ICONI.
She’ll also be entering her sophomore year at the University of Delaware.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to campus,” she said. “I’m fully vaccinated and encouraging others to get vaccinated. I can’t wait to get back into in-person labs after my labs last year were all virtual.”
One lab experience she’s been able to have in person was part of an internship at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. It’s been a remarkably hands-on experience.
“I was in the neuroscience lab of Dr. Richard L. Huganir, a huge, famous neuroscientist, and my mentor was one of his students, Dr. Hana Goldschmidt,” she said. “In the last week I was splicing the brain from the lab specimens looking at the cultured neurons — grown in the lab, so it’s like, imagine growing plants but you’re growing brain neurons. Really cool. I looked at neurons that were cultured that had been purposefully injected with diseases to see how they looked versus healthy neuron tissue, which was just incredible. I was geeking out in the lab.”
The Miss Black USA Talented Teen competition selects its Delaware state representatives through an application process, and is looking into the possibility of holding state-level pageants in every state.