Engineering Student Redefines Pageant Queen Stereotype

Monali Baker

Monali Baker ’26 dreamed of being two things when she was growing up: a pageant queen and a mechanical engineer.

As America’s Teen Sweetheart 2022, she’s already achieved one of those goals, and attending Kettering is helping her work toward the other.

Baker’s plan to become an engineer started to take shape in sixth grade when she began participating in Boosting Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics. In the ninth grade at Smithson Valley High School in Spring Branch, Texas, Baker went on to compete in FIRST Robotics.

“In FIRST, I learned a lot about Kettering; I learned about the Co-op program, and I learned about all of the different things that they did,” she said. “I thought it looked like a really cool place. I kind of really like that.”

As a freshman at Kettering, Baker has wasted no time embracing college life. She’s joined the FIRST Alumni Association, Dance Club, Society of Women Engineers, and Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.

“I have made some of the most amazing friends, and I’ve met some incredible people who have done amazing things,” Baker said. 

Her favorite classes include Engineering Graphical Communication and Calculus because she loves math and computer-aided design (CAD). According to Baker, the coolest project so far has been in Engineering Graphical Communication. The class disassembled and CAD-designed a Nerf gun, reassembled the CAD drawings in the NX software, and wrote a report about it.

“I love math and CAD, so getting to expand my knowledge in these subjects has been so much fun for me,” Baker said.

For her Co-op, she is a Quality Engineer at Orchid Orthopedic Solutions, a medical device company. Baker works with suppliers and customers to ensure the quality of the products.

“I love everything about my Co-op. I get to problem-solve and meet new people every day,” she said. “I am able to learn and grow within my position, and my team is extremely welcoming and encouraging.”

This year, she’ll also wrap up her responsibilities as America’s Teen Sweetheart with photo shoots for sponsors Swim by KC and STS Nation and volunteering with various organizations, including Charity: Water, which provides clean water to people around the world, and Angel Tree and Prison Fellowship, which works the children and families of prisoners to help meet their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. She’ll also continue spreading her message of positive living—living for yourself and not society, family or friends. 

“As long as it’s positive and it’s going to uplift you, go for it,” Baker said. “You can reach those crazy dreams—even though no one thinks you can— if you put the work behind it. So being that role model for younger girls, for other teens, to show them that they can achieve their dreams, that they can do it, that is one of the best feelings. I’ve already had a few people come up and say they’re going to compete in pageants because they saw me do it and I looked like them, and they never saw someone like them on TV. So knowing that I’m making that change and helping people realize their dreams and go for it is one of the most rewarding feelings.”

Baker is the second America’s Teen Sweetheart, a contest that focuses on body positivity, charity, service and leadership.Monali Baker

“It’s very much about the whole girl. When you say pageantry, you think beauty pageants, and it’s very looks-based, and that whole stigma is shifting,” Baker said. “You can have brains and beauty and do pageantry.”

She said winning was exciting and scary because it’s such a large platform.

“It’s a wonderful organization. Just the feeling of knowing I was able to win this pageant being a bigger girl and being a girl in STEM, those are things you don’t think mix. People are always asking, ‘Why are you in pageants if you’re an engineering student?’ and things to that extent,” Baker said. 

For her future in pageantry, she’s unsure if she’ll move on to America’s Miss Sweetheart pageant. She has some time to decide, though, because she won’t be eligible to compete in that pageant until 2024.

For her engineering future, Baker hopes to add a business major and start a company that designs, develops and manufactures toys, tools and technologies for people with special needs with a focus on classroom development.

“I believe people with disabilities have these beautiful minds and wonderful ideas, but we’re not really giving them the opportunity to showcase it,” she said. 

Baker is proud of her achievements and excited for her future. She hopes her story inspires others too.

“I love proving people wrong,” she said, “because it shows other people that they’re also able to achieve their dreams no matter what anyone says.”