Kara McCullough, a 25-year-old scientist working for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, took home the crown Sunday night.
McCullough, who represented the District of Columbia in the decades-old pageant, was born in Naples, Italy, and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She said she wants to inspire children to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I love science,” McCullough said after the event. “I look at this as a great opportunity to — get to experience worldwide culture, as well as just having the opportunity to be impacted by so many children, hopefully in the math and sciences.”
McCullough bested 50 other contestants and will represent the U.S. at the Miss Universe contest.
This was the second year in a row that the representative of the nation’s capital won the Miss USA title. Last year, District of Columbia resident Deshauna Barber became the first-ever military member to win Miss USA. This year’s top five finalists were asked questions that touched on the pros and cons of social media, women’s rights and issues affecting teenagers.
The night wasn’t without controversy. McCullough raised some eyebrows when she called health care a “privilege” and not a “right” during the question and answer period.
“As a government employee, I’m granted health care and I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have jobs,” she said.
McCullough said she will be discussing with her supervisor whether she will take a leave of absence from her job at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission during her one-year reign.