Written Summer 2021
Amber Hulse is the president of the Keystone chapter of Mortar Board at the University of South Dakota (USD) for the 2020-21 school year and is now looking forward to attending Georgetown University Law School in the fall. She graduated summa cum laude with a major in political science and minor in nonprofit studies, as well as a 4.0 to complement. While attending university, Amber has devoted herself to being a lifelong learner outside of the classroom, as she pursues knowledge out of intrinsic motivation. Whether it was attending USD, becoming Miss South Dakota 2019, or interning at the White House, she has a unique background for being a “small-town girl.”
Amber has been competing in the Miss America Organization since she was 13 years old. She explains that she didn’t necessarily like “the competing aspect of it. I never did it to be in a pageant or to be on stage. I like to do all the community service and go to all the events and be a public figure in that kind of sense.” Amber is considered “the longest reigning Miss South Dakota” as she has had to hold onto the crown after winning in 2019 because the 2020 pageant was canceled due to the coronavirus. Competing in pageants sparked her interest in politics and constituent services.
Amber explains that “when you’re competing for any title in the Miss America Organization you have a social impact initiative, or ‘SII.’ Mine is called Operation Overload, and I help students understand what life could look like after high school whether it’s entering the workforce, attending a four-year university or tech school, or military.” Amber added that Operation Overload combats problems that pertain to students feeling overloaded with debt or regret from making the wrong decision. One of the problems specific to South Dakota is in which young, college-educated people migrate out of their rural hometowns to urban areas to seek higher education and jobs. This can worsen ongoing problems within the region, such as an increasing wage gap and a higher demand for skilled workers in which there is little supply. Another problem present in South Dakota is limited access to school counselors. This makes it difficult for students to make important life decisions because they do not have all the information and resources to aid them in understanding possible alternatives. Amber chose to write her nominated for distinction honors thesis on career planning education, which offered insight into how confident students are with career readiness.
Being more of an experimental learner, Amber pursued several internships in which she was able to obtain hands-on experience. She recognized that she was learning important skills and gaining experience, thus motivating her to advocate for this specific SII. One internship that brought many learning opportunities was when Amber interned at the White House fall 2020 in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, in which the department communicates with all the elected officials at the state and local level. There were many challenges she faced during this period of time, as there was the 2020 election and a Supreme Court nomination, all during the widespread coronavirus pandemic. She was tasked with writing a daily report that would include details of the progress being made throughout the work day, which would then be circulated around to different departments.
One of the biggest challenges she faced during this internship was due to her involvement with the Miss America Organization over the years. Amber revealed that she was more nervous walking into a conference room at the White House than being on national television for Miss America! On the first day at the White House, she decided to dress conservatively in a big pantsuit, and chop her hair short so that she was “all business.” Amber told herself that she was “not going to be a pageant girl…we are not going to let people think we are a ditzy blonde!” She added that you “can tell when someone is underestimating you because of what you look like…And then I open my mouth and you can tell on their face that they are thinking, ‘oh, this girl actually has a brain in her head,’ and I love that.”
One of her favorite experiences from this internship was when she went to the Arlington National Cemetery to attend an unveiling of an important tombstone that previously had a misspelling on it. The tombstone belongs to Sarah Ford Young, whom Amber explains was the “first woman to ever vote in the United States in any election.” She goes on to say that the “first female vote was actually in Utah, which most people do not know because women got the right to vote in Wyoming first.” She added that she was extremely excited to create commemorative flyers and pamphlets that would be given out to Sarah’s descendants that attended, as well as the opportunity to listen to empowered women in high level official positions speak at the event.
Amber emphasized how important female empowerment is to her, as she acts as a role model for breaking gender stereotypes. She is more than just her pageant-winning looks, as she is also recognized for her remarkable achievements and character. In fact, her blog “Political Science Princess” that she had running when she was competing for Miss South Dakota 2019, or her current project “Pageants and Politics,” describes the juxtaposition of her interests particularly well! Check them out at the links below.
Pageants and Politics: https://meganswanson.kartra.com/page/politics
Political Science Princess: https://polsprincess.wordpress.com/