A winner of another pageant watches the stage at the UGA Fine Arts Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (Photo/Jason Born)

Fifteen women of various backgrounds, talents and passions took the stage to showcase themselves and represent the University of Georgia at the 2020 Miss University of Georgia competition on Jan. 11.

Undeterred by the choppy weather outside, by the end of the night, senior history major Karson Pennington from Augusta walked out of the Fine Arts Theatre with a crown in her hair, flowers and a $1,500 scholarship in hand and the title of Miss University of Georgia 2020.

Miss UGA is a not-for-profit competition to recognize scholarship, achievement and professionalism among female UGA students between the ages of 18 and 25. The participants compete for both the title and scholarships provided by the Miss University of Georgia Organization.

Multiple scholarships were awarded during the competition, including prizes for the first four runner-ups and a Miss Congeniality scholarship awarded to senior environmental engineering major Miranda Moore.

Former Miss UGA winners Kimberly Sharpe and Amy Mulkey McGowan, United States Army veteran and Bronze Star Medal recipient Don Clarke and season 15 “The Bachelorette” contestant Garrett Powell served as judges for the competition. Former Miss Georgia and 2020 Miss America runner-up Victoria Hill also spoke during the competition.

The competition consists of an interview portion where judges inquire about contestants’ social lives, hometowns and majors — which ranged from dance to mechanical engineering — followed by a talent section. Contestants showcased a variety of talent, including lyrical, contemporary and tap dance, singing and a science experience.

“Many of the former Miss UGA contestants have been seen on television, whether it’s broadcasting the news or even being on a reality tv show,” Carson Hand, UGA graduate and emcee of the competition, said. “These talents do not go unnoticed.”

The last section was the evening-wear portion, which required the contestants to explain a platform they are passionate about in under 10 seconds. Contestants addressed a range of societal issues, including human trafficking, mental health, child literacy, spinal injuries and cancer.

Hill stated how through her experience with these competitions, she’s been able to volunteer with those in the foster care system. Hearing the success stories of those she has worked with “is truly the highlight of all of this,” Hill said.

“I’ve always wanted to be an advocate for UGA in terms of being a confident, independent woman,” contestant Chatania Meyer, a senior biology major, said. “Miss UGA allows me to promote the project that I am passionate about and educate those around me.”

Both former and current Miss UGA contestants expressed the sense of unity the competition has provided to them while speaking on stage. Briana Hayes, former Miss UGA of 2019, said she found “undeniable support” while being on the Miss UGA court and “would not be where I am today” if it weren’t for her fellow contestants.

The winner of Miss UGA 2020 will move on to compete at the Miss Georgia competition this summer. A date has yet to be announced

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