ELMHURST – The newly crowned Miss Illinois' late grandfather predicted her future long before the thought of entering a pageant ever crossed her mind.
"It's funny because he used to actually sing the Miss America song to me when I was younger," said 23-year-old Brittany Smith, of Elmhurst.
After winning Miss Illinois less than three weeks ago, the Purdue University graduate is currently preparing for the Miss America competition in less than two months.
"I haven't done pageants my whole life," said Smith.
It wasn't until her senior year of college when a friend suggested she run for Miss Purdue University that she considered competing for a crown. The aspiring physician assistant looked into the pageant and saw an excellent scholarship opportunity.
Smith spent hours of her childhood and even adult life Irish dancing, so she knew exactly what to perform as her talent during the Miss Illinois competition. She taught private lessons at Mullane Healy Godley Academy in Elmhurst whenever she was home from college, and when she was at school she introduced Irish dance to Golden Steps Studio in Lafayette, Ind.
"As a dancer, especially Irish dancing, I suffered a lot of injuries," Smith said.
At 12 years old, Smith shattered her iliac crest, or hip, and needed physical rehabilitation. Smith didn't let her injury slow her down, though. After an entire year off, she still managed to place at the Irish Dance World Championship. Her injury also pushed Smith in other ways.
"I think that was my initial interest in medicine and preventative health," Smith said.
After receiving her health and kinesiology degree from Purdue in 2012, Smith moved back to her hometown and spent the past year earning her medical assistant certificate. She plans to attend graduate school to be a physician assistant next year after completing her duties as Miss Illinois.
Aside from the scholarship opportunities and chance to showcase her Irish dance skills, Smith is excited to give a voice to an issue close to her. Smith's platform is titled "S.T.E.M. Taking the PULSE of American Healthcare." Inspired by the demand she's seen for medical professionals during her studies, she wanted to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education to begin as early as possible.
"I understand the difficulty and the struggle of the sciences," Smith said.
She wished she had a stronger science background when she got to college. It's an initiative her hometown believes in as well. The District 205 Foundation is currently working on a project to purchase NOVA5000 data loggers for each middle school with the hope that these tools will teach students to collect and analyze data.
"I think that as a woman, too, we need to continue to promote that, because it is more of a male dominant field," Smith said.
A hard-working woman, Smith participated in a laundry list of clubs during college, including the Purdue dance team, Delta Gamma sorority and professional organizations like the Health and Kinesiology Club. Used to doing everything on her own, the newly crowned Miss Illinois admits she feels a bit like she's stepped into the Hunger Games, with an entire team of people helping her prepare for her next endeavor – the Miss America pageant – but she's grateful for the help.
The pageant returns to its home in Atlantic City, N.J. this September, which gives Smith and the rest of the contestants roughly two months to prepare. In addition to pages of paperwork and shooting a video for the national contest, every Miss raises money for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. The ambitious Smith has set a personal goal to raise $8,000 before she leaves the first week in September.
Service and fundraising are just one of the aspects she hopes to highlight during her year as Miss Illinois. Smith said the pageant is so much more than a beauty contest, and has taught her life skills through interviews and exploring her personal opinions on current events. She said she will consider her time as Miss Illinois a success if she can get that point across.
"I'm learning to really stand up for what [I] truly believe in," Smith said.
To help make her goal, Smith is hosting a fundraiser at the Maywood Race Track, 8600 W. North Ave., Melrose Park at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 2.
Tickets cost $40 and include a buffet dinner, valet parking and a program. For more information call Tracy Greco at 708-343-8284.