- The undergrad at Carnegie Mellon says, “You don't have to be a superhero in everyone's story, you can just be the hero in your own, and that's ok!”
Shriya Boppana, an undergraduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, was recently named the winner of the 2020 Miss India America pageant on Nov. 21, 2020. She was also the first runner-up in the Miss India DC competition.
Bopanna, a fourth-year student majoring in business administration with a concentration in marketing and a minor in psychology, picked up pageantry during quarantine, according to a press release issued by the university.
A pleased Boppana told American Kahani, “Winning was unbelievable,” adding, “coming into pageantry, I had no training or coaching and went headfirst with full faith in my abilities and talents. I trusted that my confidence and poise would get me through anything as long as I did it with a smile. I showed the world that my skills are in my intellectual abilities, my creative faculties, and my advocacy causes. I worked my way up and when I finally won the crown, I knew that I was showing millions of young girls that you can absolutely be anything you want to be: beautiful inside and out.”
The pageant consisted of four rounds: introduction; evening gown; Indian dress; and talent. For the talent portion, Boppana displayed her skills during a two-minute speed paint, with a “cartoon portrait of Aishwarya Rai (Bollywood actress)”.
As to why she picked that drawing the Bollywood beauty, Boppana says, “I wanted to paint the authentic Indian identity with a mix of western style to portray the blend of my two cultures. I chose Aishwarya Rai because she is an iconic Bollywood face and the scene I recreated was directly from “Umrao Jaan” and the style was cartoon portraiture, popular in western fusion art.”
As to why she picked a beauty pageant, Boppana says, “I think young girls have an overreaching example of what a good role model looks like. For example, the late justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, may she rest in peace, was an immense trailblazer for women’s rights or let’s take someone more contemporary, Beyonce, one of the biggest celebrities in music and songwriting. These are international women, and while they are phenomenal, they give younger girls a distant sense of success.”
Boppana further adds, “Sometimes, the women around you are just as interesting as the celebrities these kids idolize, and through this pageant, I hoped to show these young girls that everyone is on a journey to greatness. You just have to look around. Your best friend’s older sister, your next-door neighbor, your elementary school teacher – are all people you should look up to. That’s why I really wanted to do this pageant because I had the privilege of the most wonderful role model in my life, my mother, by my side growing up. Now, I want young girls to have a visible role model, as well. One right in front of their eyes doing great things teaching them they are all great. You don’t have to be a superhero in everyone’s story, you can just be the hero in your own, and that’s ok!”
But for Boppana, pageantry wasn’t just about show casing her talent or even killing time during quarantine — it was a way to promote a cause that was close to her heart. She is passionate about ending human trafficking in India and Nepal, and founded an organization in 2016 with her friend, Surabhi Khanal, called Save Our Stars.
She used the pageant stage to raise awareness about the cause and the organization, which eventually earned her a segment on the Fox 5 Plus Channel, called “Becoming a Voice with Shriya Boppana.” The show focused on what Boppana described as “social justice causes with depth.”
“According to a report by the National Human Rights Commission of India, 40,000 children are abducted each year and 11,000 go untraced, later joining human trafficking rings. But these numbers suffer in comparison to the 12,000 and 50,000 women and children who are brought into the sex trade from neighboring countries,” says Bopanna, adding, “My platform is in support of the Save Our Stars Foundation aiding child and female sex trafficking victims. Using my platform, I hope to bring the structured foundation of the MedLove project to rural areas of India. Last summer, MedLove built an HIV/AIDS clinic in Samgha, Nepal through crowdfunding.”
Boppana further adds, “My goal is to start from the bottom up. By encouraging regular conversations in everyday households about traditionally “taboo” topics such as sexual education, rape culture, consent, and intersectionality of identities including poverty, social class, and economic status. I hope to bring change to every level of the pyramid with an ultimatum of opening a branch of the SOS foundation in India. Along with their vision and mission, there are thousands of rural locations that deserve access to sexual healthcare and feminine hygiene provided by MedLove.”
As to why use pageantry, Boppana says, “Pageantry serves as a progressive platform to encourage donations by those whose roots are deep within the Indian culture and wish to give back to their native heritage. I plan to save these victims and together, with SOS, am on track to become an official United Nations partner to eradicate human trafficking worldwide and bring ground troops to increase victim reach.”
Boppana, who serves on the advocacy committee of Carnegie Mellon University’s undergraduate student senate, is equally active on-campus.
Boppana has worked with the student organization PRISM to “help make the campus a more inclusive place for incoming and current LGBTQIA+ students,” and in 2019, she worked with student group SARV to host “Take Back the Night,” an event centered around the “stories of sexual assault survivors, and changing the climate on campus to make it safe for victims and survivors.”
In 2018, Boppana won the third place in the Deloitte Start-Up Case Competition as a co-founder of BusyBus, which used real-time technology and automated passenger tracking to create efficiency in Port Authority, Pittsburgh.
She is the co-founder of Patch, a Physician Assistant program startup, which won the third place at Cornell University’s Origins Bootcamp. She is also the head of marketing for Uncle Harvey, a one-stop-shop for neurosurgeons across the U.S.
Aside from school, Boppana has been an avid pursuer of the theatrical arts, with a 12-year history of acting in plays, musicals and films.
Her interest in theater has also led her to a dance career. Boppana has competed nationally for her collegiate co-ed Bollywood fusion dance team, CMU Sahara.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.