To say that Miss Mississippi USA’s goals are high is an understatement. They’re at least 238,000 miles high, and a little more if you want to make it to the moon.
That’s because Paromita Mitra wants to be the first Miss Universe in space. That’s right – a Miss Universe who wants to explore the universe.
Some may think that competing in a beauty pageant isn’t rocket science, but that could probably be proven scientifically untrue in the case of Mitra, 21, a Mississippi State University aerospace engineering student, who is representing Mississippi in the 2013 Miss USA Pageant that will air at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 16, on NBC.
I can specifically recall not being able to speak English and pretending that I could,” said Mitra, who moved from Bangladesh to the U.S. with her family in 1992. Three years later, the family returned to Bangladesh, but eventually came back to the United States.
I always thought (and still do) that America was the most amazing place on Earth,” Mitra said. “I remember wanting to live in America forever on the plane ride over. Mississippi has given our family a home away from home. This state is genuinely the hospitality state, and I am proud to be a representation of it.”
Mitra grew up in with a brother who is six years older and credits her family with her success.
Her father, Dr. Amal K. Mitra, a former pediatrician who is now professor of public health and epidemiology at the University of Southern Mississippi, was recently asked to write “Epidemiology for Dummies.”
Her mother is a preschool teacher and a home-based realtor, who Mitra said influenced her pageantry and taught her to be a strong woman.
Mitra spent grades 1-12 in Hattiesburg’s Oak Grove school system. In high school, she was a cheerleader, a member of the speech and debate team, band, robotics team, in honors art and served as senior class president.
I was spread thin, but it definitely helped me develop my interests in life,” she said, adding that she also enjoys canoeing; playing the drums, clarinet and piano; studying astronomy; and oil painting.
My mentor in high school was my physics teacher,” she said. “She was always very positive about women in engineering. Since then, I decided I would combine my love for astronomy and physics, and aerospace engineering came to mind. Also, growing up, my brother was a huge astronomy enthusiast. We would go to stargazing camps every year as a family.”
In addition to being part of MSU’s Fashion Board, the aerospace engineering student with a concentration in astronautics and minor in mathematics, was a member of the MSU Space Cowboys Rocket Design Team.
I have become very well versed with high powered rocketry and working in the lab,” she said. “We build and compete for a NASA University Student Launch Initiative each year and have placed second in the nation for the past three years.”
Mitra is also involved in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She recently worked as an undergraduate researcher for a NASA-funded program in the Centers for Advanced Vehicular Systems at MSU. And she studying to become certified in geospatial remote sensing.
After graduation, she hopes to work for a space company, become an astronaut or attempt a television career.
Hopefully this year of service of Miss Mississippi USA will guide me to my calling,” she said.
Mitra, who competed in many high school beauty reviews, was asked by a local dress shop to participate in Miss Mississippi Teen USA 2009 and won. That enabled her to compete in the national pageant.
I knew after that, that I wanted to do the Miss USA system and ultimately become Miss Universe,” she said. “I enjoy it now because it has given me a voice to speak about my passion for education.”
Mitra is an advocate for higher education and NASA’s STEM platform for youth. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.
As a previous educational outreach co-director of The Space Cowboys rocket design team at MSU, I have traveled to schools all over Mississippi speaking about rocketry and space topics, while implementing hands-on activities to promote science,” she said. “My most memorable project was traveling to The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to teach a Girl Scout troop about the importance of physics.
I also was honored as a distinguished guest at the “Audience for an Astronaut” event (with NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao), where I spoke with 500 plus kids about the importance of higher education. The best part is seeing kids ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ over things blowing up.”
Pasquale Cinnella, head of MSU’s Department of Aerospace Engineering at Mississippi State University, describes Mitra as “gracious, polite and talented.”
I believe Paromita chose this field because, as a young girl, she was fascinated by flying machines,” Cinnella said. “The love of flying, and the drive to explore the universe are essential components of the DNA of most aerospace engineers.”
Cinnella said Paromita is a solid student who has been successful in juggling many responsibilities in and out of the classroom, and she hopes Mitra will be able to promote STEM nationally.
“Aerospace engineering has grown by leaps and bounds since the Wright brothers and the Apollo missions,” Cinnella said, “and we are now on the verge of another golden era dominated by remotely piloted aircraft in aeronautics, and private-sector led space exploration in astronautics. The sky is literally the limit, and we need more students and young aerospace professionals to follow in Paromita’s footsteps.”
Cinnella said we need to maintain and increase our technological and human edge over the rest of the world.
“The 21st Century will remain an American Century if we keep directing our best and brightest students to engineering and science fields,” she said. “Paromita is doing her part to help secure our future, and we deeply appreciate her efforts.”
Keith Koenig, a MSU aerospace engineering professor, describes Mitra as “a bundle of humorous energy” who has many talents and is full of surprises.
“She adds life to any group she joins,” he said. “It is very exciting that she is in this event. We are all cheering for her and ringing our cowbells for her. I hope others see that a beautiful, talented and highly personable young lady can also enjoy science and math and have a goal to be an engineer and astronaut.”
Mitra said she hopes to make Mississippians proud.
“In the future, I see myself as the first Miss Universe in space,” she said.