3 FHSU students competing at Miss Kansas Pageant

Miss Kansas 2017

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- College students are sometimes quite creative, coming up with interesting activities to fill their summer months -- whether for pleasure or work.

Three Fort Hays State University students are experiencing some of both this week at the 2017 Miss Kansas Pageant in Pratt.

Jetta Smith, Dakota Derstein and Katelyn Unruh will conclude their two-day preliminary competition today in an attempt to make the finalist list. The top 10 contestants from the preliminaries will compete for numerous scholarships Saturday night in Dennis Lesh Sports Arena.

While their sashes will represent a preliminary pageant which they won to advance to the Miss Kansas Pageant, Smith, Derstein and Unruh said they are honored for the opportunity to also represent Fort Hays State in competing for the ultimate prize -- the Miss Kansas crown.

It is the third consecutive year that FHSU has had at least one student competing for Miss Kansas. Derstein participated two years ago, and last year, two Fort Hays State students participated.

This year's trio makes FHSU's list of participants second only to Kansas State University and Wichita State University, which each have four students in the pageant.

"I think that is so awesome that we have three from Fort Hays State," Derstein said. "I think that gives one of us a shot at getting in the finals."

Smith, like Derstein, already has the experience of competing in a state scholarship pageant. Smith, now 21, was crowned Miss Black Oklahoma Teen as a 17-year-old.

But this will be Unruh's first time competing at the state level after being crowned Miss Cowboy Capital in January. In fact, the Miss Kansas event will be just Unruh's second pageant, period.

"There was a lot of really good competition in Dodge, so I was pleased to get one of the crowns," said Unruh, a 22-year-old elementary education major from Copeland.

Unruh is no stranger to participating in front of crowds, however; she cheered and danced at Montezuma-South Gray High School. She said she became interested in competing for a pageant title after watching other young women in the area participate.

Her platform is "Beautiful YOU: Motivating & Encouraging Women to Be Who They Were Created to Be."

"That's something I'm passionate about, helping other people find what they're passionate about," she said. "Life is meant to be exciting."

Derstein, a 21-year-old wildlife biology and zoology major from Dodge City, hopes this trip to Miss Kansas is even more exciting than two years ago when she participated as a 19-year-old.

Derstein, who also is a member of the Tiger Deb Dance Team at FHSU, did not participate in pageants last year.

"It is quite the process," she said, "so I decided to take a year off to better myself and grow in maturity."

Even though she did not make the finals two years ago, Derstein considered it a rewarding experience.

"I got a lot of personal growth out of it," she said. "You meet so many wonderful people, and I gained a lot of insight and perspective."

As Miss Cottonwood, Derstein has chosen as her platform "MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers): No More Victims."

"I've had family and friends who have been deceased or very harshly injured in drunk driving accidents," she said. "I think about that every day. So I think teaching people my age and younger how to be responsible for your actions will benefit the state of Kansas."

Smith said the Miss pageant competition is a little different than the Teen level, but she still hopes her experience gained in Teen pageants will benefit her this week.

After earning her state title in Oklahoma in 2013 as a high school student in Oklahoma City, Smith went on to claim third runner-up honors at Miss Black USA Talented Teen in Washington, D.C.

She played basketball at Colby Community College for two years, then transferred to Fort Hays State on academic scholarships while pursuing degrees in journalism and political science.

Smith was crowned Miss Boot Hill in January to advance to the Miss Kansas Pageant .

"It's nice to come into it with a little bit of pageant knowledge," Smith said. "It's good to know how it all works, having a basic understanding of pageants in general."

Smith's platform "No Means No" is personal as she was physically assaulted by a parent at a basketball game the summer before her senior year in high school.

"I got to college and started researching safety of schools," she said. "The more I researched, the more I realized how big of a problem it is for women to be sexually assaulted while they are in college … a very worthwhile subject."

More about the Miss Kansas Pageant and this year's contestants can be found online at misskansas.org.

Cutline: Pictured from left to right are: Dakota Derstein, Jetta Smith and Katelyn Unruh.

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