Three Miss America Contestants with UA Ties Proud of Platforms
By David Miller
Allison Farris had just switched majors from music to management information systems, a move prompted by a discovery of music software after years of training in classical piano.
She was eager to blend technology with the precision and creativity cultivated in music. Her excitement was tempered when she sat down for her first computer programming class at The University of Alabama, where she was one of a dozen women in a room of 100 students.
The contrast between men and women in the class would kick-start her passion to advocate for women in STEM at UA and across the world, and do so with one of the most visible and coveted platforms for women: Miss America.
Farris, who was crowned Miss District of Columbia earlier this year, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in management information systems at UA and has worked as a software developer for Microsoft for three years.
She’ll compete for Miss America, along with current UA seniors Kayla Repasky (Miss Pennsylvania) and Callie Walker (Miss Alabama), on Sept. 9 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There, she’ll showcase her platform, “Women in Technology: Developing Futures.”
“Ever since starting my journey at Microsoft, I have always been driven by their inclusion and diversity goals, and their culture,” Farris said. “Being able to branch out and identify aspects of my day-to-day job into the passion to promote diversity and more women in technology is something Microsoft has been very supportive of. Microsoft has allowed me a lot of flexibility to go out, do appearances, talk to students in schools, then also come back and make sure I get my work done and meet my job deadlines.”
Farris began laying groundwork for her platform as a student at UA, where she was a recruitment lead and teaching assistant in the MIS department. There, Drs. David and Joanne Hale, MIS professors, created an affinity group called “Women in Tech,” which would help introduce Farris to a variety of mentors.
“I had tremendous support from Joanne Hale, who is an incredible mentor for women,” Farris said. “I was able to explore comfortably and understand different perspectives to create a support group for women in the department.”
Farris felt empowered once she became a full-time professional, buoyed by another strong support system at Microsoft. Her advocacy for women in tech would soon be reignited shortly after joining the tech giant. Farris was working as a project consultant, visiting different sites for enterprise customers when, six months into a project, a new male client joined the project and requested she be removed as a consultant. She had positive results, but she wasn’t given an explanation for her removal. Her male colleagues told her the dismissal was unwarranted.
“I was marginalized and told when I was in the room with him that I was unable to build for the project,” Farris said. “I was shocked and didn’t know how to respond. I felt like, because it was 2017, that this situation couldn’t happen to me.
“That moment revitalized my passion to get more women into the picture, to combat these misperceptions and advance the idea that women are just as capable as men to code and to work in tech fields.”
A kinder humanity, a greener environment
To say millenials embrace social media would be severely understating the influence of the technology on youth culture and social interactions.
While most are able to integrate social media seamlessly into their lives, others aren’t as responsible or aware of the damages misuse can cause.
Kayla Repasky created “Think First America” to encourage Internet positivity and kindness. The platform has a variety of education programs aimed at getting children to “THINK Before You Post.”
While Repasky did a seminar at UA and held a “Choose Kindness Day” on The Quad, much of her work with her platform has been in and around her hometown of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, including the Bryan Doll Memorial Walk, which raised $5,000 in memory of a 14-year-old boy who committed suicide after allegedly being bullied.
“That’s a moment where I said, ‘this is why we created Think First America,’” Repasky said.
Since being crowned Miss Alabama, Callie Walker has toured the state, sharing the message of sustainability in her platform, “Let’s Talk Trash – Green Kids for a Green Planet.” She aims to encourage community and generational goals to reduce, reuse and recycle. She’s provided a solid example to follow: Walker has delivered more than a ton of glass to recycling centers in both Tuscaloosa and her native Birmingham.
Walker also worked with “Greener Tide,” a Blackburn Institute-funded project to implement recycling into game days in Tuscaloosa.
“I did proposals with Greener Paths and worked with them for two years,” she said. “I really loved seeing our community get involved and knowing we can make a difference in an Alabama game day.”