D.C. chemist wins Miss USA pageant

Kara McCullough, a 25-year-old chemist from the District of Columbia, was crowned Miss USA Sunday in Las Vegas. Last year’s pageant winner was from D.C. as well.

McCullough, who works at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was followed by Miss New Jersey, Chhavi Verg, and third-place finisher, Miss Minnesota Meridith Gould, according to The Associated Press, Washington Post, People magazine and other sources.

McCullough — born in Italy and raised in Virginia Beach — studied nuclear chemistry at South Carolina State University. She hosts an outreach program that helps children learn about science and hopes to inspire women who are interested in technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

She will now compete in the Miss Universe pageant.

The Q&A portion required contestants to address controversial issues. Her first question was whether affordable health care for all U.S. citizens is a privilege.

“I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege,” McCullough responded. “As a government employee, I am granted health care. And I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have a job. So therefore, we need to continue to cultivate this environment that we’re given the opportunities to have health care as well as jobs to all the American citizens worldwide.”

Her second question asked her to define feminism and if she considers herself a feminist.

“As a woman scientist in the government, I’d like to lately transpose the word feminism to equalism,” McCullough said. “I don’t really want to consider myself — try not to consider myself like this diehard, you know, like, ‘Oh, I don’t really care about men.’ But one thing I’m gonna say, though, is women, we are just as equal as men when it comes to opportunity in the workplace.”

“And I say firsthand: I have witnessed the impact that women have in leadership in the medical sciences, as well as just in the office environment,” she added. “So as Miss USA, I would hope to promote that type of leadership responsibility globally to so many women worldwide.”

McCullough takes the crown from the reigning Miss USA, Miss D.C. Deshauna Barber.

The pageant included five women who immigrated to the U.S. as children. New Jersey’s Verg and the women representing Florida, North Dakota, Hawaii and Connecticut said they have faced challenges and opportunities as immigrants.

Verg told The Associated Press she and her parents immigrated from India to the U.S. with only $500 in their pockets when she was 4 years old.

“I want to show Americans that the definition of what it means to be American is changing,” the 20-year-old said. “It’s not just one face. There are many different people who are Americans, and I feel like Asian-Americans often are left out of the conversation.”

Julianne Hough, Ashley Graham and Terrence J. hosted the show.