Wisconsin’s Grace Stanke is the new Miss America


The new Miss America probably couldn’t find a better location to earn her crown.

Grace Stanke, who was crowned Thursday night, is majoring in nuclear science with the goal of becoming a nuclear engineer. As a title holder, her social impact cause is to break down misconceptions about nuclear energy.

And the 20-year-old resident University of Wisconsin student earned the title at the Mohegan Sun, which is built on the site of a decommissioned nuclear power facility in Uncasville.

Prior to the construction of the Connecticut casino, the property was used by the United Nuclear Corporation to construct nuclear reactors for submarines. The property was decommissioned and cleaned up, making way for the venue in which Miss America was held.

Asked how she made the decision to become a nuclear engineer, Stanke said, “My dad’s a civil engineer and I had eventually narrowed down my choices to aerospace and nuclear (engineering) and (my dad) said nuclear has no future. So I flipped my hair and said watch me.”

Stanke added, “I really fell in love with the field because it’s sort of a melting pot of all different types of engineering. It’s a combination of the mechanical, chemical and electrical — every day I wake up and do something different. It’s a field that has the potential to change the world.”

As she continues her year as Miss America, Stanke said she will promote STEM (science, technology, energy and mathematics) to students. “I love to make nuclear science fun and give it hands-on approaches, letting little kids play with balls of clay to represent the nucleus of atoms and then beads with different colors to represent the electrons, neutrons and photons.”

As part of the evening’s competition Thursday, the budding engineer played a passionate violin solo for the judges.

To have the ambition of being a nuclear engineer, having demonstrated a passion for classical music and being crowned Miss America, Stanke said she hopes to show young girls with an eye toward becoming her successor some day, “Miss America is someone who can be anything. She can have multiple identities… It’s not just being a nuclear engineer for me. It’s about being a classical violinist, a competitive water skier, a family member, a friend and outdoorsman and so much more because we’re not limited to just one identity. That’s what makes us human.”

Stepping to the press conference podium for the first time as Miss America, Stanke told the roomful of people outside of the auditorium, “I am so incredibly honored and excited to be the Miss America 2023 — that’s really one of the first times I’ve said it, which is just insane.”

“I have no thoughts (having just been crowned)– just screaming sounds in my head,” said Stanke. “It’s a great time.”

To win on Thursday, Stanke competed against 10 other finalists in red carpet (answering an onstage question dressed in an evening gown), talent and social impact (where the contestants a pitch for their chosen cause) categories. In total, 51 women competed.

Miss Connecticut Sylvana Gonzalez of New Britain competed during the two nights of preliminaries on Monday and Tuesday. However, she was not selected for the top 11 to participate in Thursday’s finals.