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Chica

Miss USA Kara McCullough’s Strategy For Miss Universe Title: “Have an Opinion”

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It’s been five weeks since Kára McCullough won the crown of Miss USA 2017 in Las Vegas, NV. With persistence and perseverance, the representative from Washington D.C. was able to make it to the national stage after placing first runner-up in her home state two times in a row.

And being Miss USA isn’t her only job. McCullough is living up to the term “beauty and brains.” The 25-year-old is a scientist working for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She even has her own outreach program called Science Exploration for Kids that works with children on special projects in order to highlight how exciting science can be and spark an interest to work in the science and technology fields.

How did a scientist get involved in pageantry? “It’s just something I’ve secretly always wanted to do. I wanted to try something different,” she told Chica. “I would be at work and I would be like ‘I really want to affect change differently.’”

With this secret desire and a push from her cousin who was already involved in the pageant world, McCullough went for it and didn’t look back. The pageant queen competed at Miss District of Columbia USA in 2015 and 2016 placing first runner-up both times. After adjusting her priorities, she dedicated herself to the competition one last time and walked away with the state crown.

WATCH: Miss USA 2017 Pens Letter to the Women of America

When Kára walked onto the Miss USA stage last month, she immediately won the hearts of fans on social media gaining many online votes throughout the telecast as she rocked her naturally curly hair, which is untraditional in pageants. “I wanted to be my authentic self. I wanted people to see that as well,” she said. But with all the support, later came controversy during the question and answer portion for the finalists when she called health care a “privilege” and not a “right.”

“I still stand proud behind what I said. I had no idea that it was going to cause that much controversy. I do feel as I am privileged to have healthcare, I don’t take any of it for granted,” she clarified. “There are so many people in this world that don’t have clean water to drink or to even bathe in. But do I believe that affordable healthcare should be a right? Of course! I believe that the vehicle for affordable healthcare are jobs and that’s what I want people to understand and see where I’m coming from.”

Now, the controversial moment is behind her and Miss USA is preparing to represent the country at the next Miss Universe competition. When she isn’t working with organizations like Smile Train and Best Buddies, she will be focusing on her prep including staying up on the news to stay opinionated. “It’s so important as a woman to have an opinion because if you have a different view or opinion, it’s professional and it’s actually praised.”