By Chris Worthy,
Special to the College of Science
Morgan Nichols earned her undergraduate degree in the College of Science’s department of genetics and biochemistry.
Students and faculty in Clemson University’s College of Science already have a favorite in the Miss America competition – and the date and location of the event haven’t even been announced yet.
May 2019 Clemson graduate and Miss Clemson Morgan Nichols was recently named Miss South Carolina. Nichols’ state and national platform will focus on STEM education, which promotes career development for the life science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
“I started out in the College of Science at Clemson University,” Nichols said. “Because of my education at Clemson, I received an internship at SCBIO, South Carolina’s biotechnology organization. That is where my social impact initiative ‘Stronger with STEM’ started. I traveled around South Carolina meeting with life science companies and learning of a STEM workforce void that we have. I became extremely passionate about this.”
Nichols, who is from Lexington, earned her undergraduate degree in the College of Science’s department of genetics and biochemistry. She also had a minor in business and she plans to pursue a master’s degree in business administration once her year as Miss South Carolina comes to a close. Though she had previous pageant experience, Nichols decided to compete for Miss Clemson only weeks before the event. It was the rebranding of the Miss America competition – with its greater focus on offering more opportunities to showcase women’s personal initiatives, accomplishments and skillsets – that drew her in.
“It really aligns with my initiatives,” Nichols said. “It took some encouragement and confidence-boosting for sure, but I’ve always been taught to follow your dreams, despite the stereotypical norm, and it all paid off. When they called out my name, I was in complete shock. I hadn’t won any preliminary competitions and felt like I didn’t have my best performance earlier in the competition. However, the 365-day job of Miss South Carolina is a demanding one and the judges really saw my drive and opportunistic spirit to excel in this role to not only make an impact on this organization, but also this state. I am so honored and elated to be the 83rd Miss South Carolina. I don’t think the big smile from that night will ever come off of my face.”
The Miss South Carolina title carries with it a $60,000 scholarship and it will also be Nichols’ full-time job for the next year. She was crowned June 29. Within two days, she had already met with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and set her agenda in motion.
“We talked about our plans for this state,” Nichols said. “We talked about the opioid epidemic, workforce development and life science sector in South Carolina and how we can collaborate.”
Nichols is making it her mission to show the state’s youngest students that their future possibilities are endless.
“There is no denial that we are dawning upon an era of science and technology. It is imperative South Carolina’s STEM education mimics this advancement, specifically in the life sciences. The life science sector is South Carolina’s fastest-growing innovative economy, but the lack of a workforce is plaguing its continued growth. Alleviating this will ultimately unleash the potential of the life sciences in South Carolina, boosting our economy, but also our quality of life,” Nichols said.
“I’m working to get industry more connected to academia by showcasing real-world careers and companies to students, especially the high school and collegiate population. My whole perspective changed on my future career when I learned about world-changing companies that were, essentially, right down the road.”
To help make life science education tangible for elementary and middle school students, Nichols started a DNA bracelet project that she helps them complete in the classroom.
“It’s a great hands-on activity where students can connect with the life sciences,” she said. “They pick a bead based on characteristics they have. If I have brown hair, I pick a brown bead. If I have blond hair, I pick a yellow bead. It allows them to have a bracelet that they can take home that represents who they are, while getting to understand how DNA relates to characteristics. Even if they aren’t pursuing a career in STEM, STEM really touches all of us, from computers to medication. It’s vital to have an educated population when we’re growing the next generation of leaders.”
As she begins her year as Miss South Carolina as an ambassador for the state and for STEM education, Nichols knows how important it will be to pay forward the support she received from mentors.
“I really take this as a job,” she said. “I’m here to promote the life sciences, yes, but also to inspire the next generation of women leaders, legislators and decision-makers. Women have come a long way in the past 100 years, but we still have a long way to go. My mentors showed me the true impact a woman can make and demonstrated the skills to empower me to do the same. I’m planning to have a series of professional development courses during my year. I want to pay it forward as a mentor for young women to take their seat at the table, break those glass ceilings, and realize the true impact they can make.”