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There she is ...

Beauty pageant contestant will be first graduate of unique UW Ph.D. program

Mya Pronschinske needed help. So she did what many of us do when we’re searching for answers.

She Googled it.

“I was very interested in celebrities choosing green alternatives, like driving a Prius, for example, and how their actions have actually made it cool to show you care about the environment,” Pronschinske says. “I was just randomly Googling one night and typed in ‘eco-fashion evening gowns,’ and the Miss Earth pageant appeared in the results.”

And so began what has become a landmark dissertation in the College of Business at the University of Wyoming.

In the next year, Pronschinske will become the first graduate of the university’s budding Ph.D. program in marketing with an emphasis on sustainable business practice. The program, the only of its kind in the Rocky Mountain region since its launch in fall 2010, is designed to prepare students for careers in academia by strengthening their ability to both create and disseminate knowledge.

The key substantive areas of research for students include green marketing, recycling and closed loop manufacturing, social entrepreneurship, sustainable labeling, packaging and certification and corporate social responsibility.

“The Ph.D. program in marketing, and its emphasis on sustainable business practices, is part of the College of Business’ greater vision for blending research and teaching missions in service to the state of Wyoming and the nation,” says Josè Antonio Rosa, a professor in the UW Department of Management and Marketing who serves as director of the program. “Our Ph.D. program recruits some of the best and brightest from the U.S. and abroad, and trains them to be top-notch scholars and highly effective college professors. They will leave our program prepared and motivated to do great quality research and be immediately recognized as awesome teachers.

“In time,” he adds, “UW will build a cadre of Ph.D.’s in marketing who will shape marketing thought and teaching around the world.”

Pronschinske will represent UW’s first opportunity to make a difference.

Under the guidance of Kent Drummond, Pronschinske is using her pageant experiences—she eventually competed in three of them, even winning a national title in 2011 at Miss Earth US—to conduct an ethnographic analysis of beauty pageants. She hopes her dissertation will reveal more about the strategies that people use in life, particularly in situations in which they are judged, such as job interviews, the dating and social scene, and pageants and other competitions.

“Because, whether we like it or not, part of our life is putting on a show,” says Pronschinske, who plans to pursue a tenure-track assistant professor position upon graduation.

Though she says she enjoyed watching pageants as a child and would sometimes fantasize about being on the stage, Pronschinske’s true desire was to play golf, a sport that later earned her a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati. It was there, during a team-building exercise, that Pronschinske was asked, “What is something you wish you would have done in the past?”

“Mine was that I didn’t do a pageant,” she says. “After I was done with golf, I said, ‘Let’s do this!’”

To capitalize on her deepening interest in sustainability, Pronschinske zeroed in on Miss Earth US, an annual pageant in which winners are chosen equally based on their physical attributes as well as their knowledge of issues that impact the Earth.

But Pronschinske’s first pageant experience wasn’t as she had dreamed.  Not only did Pronschinske fail to place at Miss Earth US in 2010, she felt out of place and was horrified by some of the comments that judges made about her body.

“I really didn’t want to enter after the first one. I was like, ‘I don’t want to put myself through this again.’ It was tough,” she says. “But my competitiveness kicked in and I was like, ‘You can do this!’”

A year later, Pronschinske tried again and, this time, finished among the pageant’s top five, including earning the title of Miss Eco, one of four elemental titles awarded at the competition.

“The only thing that changed was my own personal confidence and my ability to speak about the environment,” she says. “I was the exact same size both years.”

“She wowed them,” says Drummond, an associate professor of marketing. “Absolutely wowed them.”

Pronschinske has done the same at UW, where her vibrant personality and competitive spirit have set the bar in the university’s unique marketing Ph.D. program. Still, Pronschinske has little doubt that UW’s students of tomorrow will do plenty to impress.

“Right now is the best time to be part of this program, because you get to put your mark on it,” she says. “If you really care about the topic and really want individualized, personalized attention, this is the best place in the country to be. There is just no other school that actually cares about you as a person and about you as a researcher and scholar like the University of Wyoming.”

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Mya Pronschinske

Pronschinske will become the first graduate of the university’s budding Ph.D. program in marketing with an emphasis on sustainable business practice.
Mya Pronschinske
Pronschinske discusses sustainable business practices with students.

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