Tech Student in the Running for Miss Michigan USA

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

If pizzazz counts, a Michigan Tech student could be the next Miss Michigan USA.

Heather Richards, 19, will be traveling to Port Huron for the Oct. 21 pageant, and she says it's not what you think.

"If you're a blond, people think you're a cheerleader majoring in fashion design," says the flaxen-haired Richards, who looks just like you'd think a Miss Michigan USA contestant would look while simultaneously studying premed and earning junior standing as she enters her second year at Michigan Tech. "We do have a couple of fashion design majors, but most students are studying something real."

Some contestants bring another set of preconceptions to the pageant. "Lots of girls are from the U.P. now, but sometimes they still ask us, 'Do you have electricity?' Or, 'You don't still have to use porta-potties, do you?'" Richards says, with a roll of the eyes.

Richards, a Gladstone native, has been participating in pageants for four years, and most recently was first runner-up in the Miss Michigan International competition, held in Ann Arbor. The prizes are nice, especially the scholarships. But Richards had other reasons to get involved in such events, which include swimsuit and evening gown competitions, as well as an interview and the infamous on-stage question. "Oh yes, 'world peace,'" Richards grins, a reference to hackneyed jokes about vacuous answers given by beauty queens.

She has no intention of appearing empty-headed. "A pageant really makes you have all your stuff together," she says. "I can talk one-on-one forever, but I was always scared to death to go in front of a group. Now I can speak in public without freaking out completely. And going into medicine, I need to communicate well."

If she wins, Richards will qualify for the 2007 Miss USA pageant. "I don't know my chances; there are quite a few delegates," she says. "Hopefully I'll make the cut."

Whatever the outcome, Richards' longterm goal is to become a radiologist. The daughter of urologist Dr. William Richards and his wife, Sherri, she hopes someday to practice in Gladstone. "I told my dad that one day I'd be reading his scans," she says. "We can tag-team it."

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.