Irish engineer is the first woman of color to be crowned Miss Universe Ireland.
Fionnghuala O'Reilly, 26, who was born to an African-American mother and an Irish father, won the crown last August. She hopes to use the platform to inspire other young women to STEM careers.
"It has been a really historical year for women of color in pageantry,” O’Reilly told WJLA. “Every major pageant has a titleholder that is a woman of color. I'm just really proud to be a part of that class."
O’Reilly, who graduated from George Washington University, is a systems engineer. She's a NASA Datanaut,, and she works remotely from Dublin as a director for NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge.
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"I'm used to working in spaces where I'm the only person that looks like me, and I think it's been a blessing because it's enabled me to have a voice,” O’Reilly said. “I've realized that if I want to do well then I have to speak up, and I have to hold my own."
She recently launched the #ReachForTheStars social media campaign, which spotlights women and diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math.
"There are a lot of pipeline issues I think,” O’Reilly said. “Reaching young girls when they're middle school ages, those are the years when they kind of lose interest anyway. They're not shown role models who they can look up to, who are doing the things they can do in STEM. I think that's where I come in."
O’Reilly is preparing for a trip to Mozambique with the Irish embassy after which she will on a speaking tour.
"Don't give up,” she said. “You never know when opportunity is going to come knocking."