Elena Rippeon, a Francis Scott Key High School junior, was already distinguished in fact: She's a tennis player, and a member of the school marching band and National Honor Society. Now she's also distinguished in title.
Rippeon has been named the Distinguished Young Woman of Greater Westminster, and earned a $2,200 scholarship, part of the national Distinguished Young Women scholarship program. She won the title and the funding after competing against, though she would say with, five other Carroll County juniors in January.
Established in 1958, the Distinguished Young Women scholarship program is the oldest such program in the country. High school juniors compete before a panel of judges, but unlike many pageants, the program centers on academic skills, self-confidence and public speaking rather than beauty or appearance.
The Times recently caught up with Rippeon to learn more about the competition and what she plans to do with her scholarship.
Q: What is the Distinguished Young Woman program and how did you first learn of it?
A: The Distinguished Young Women Program is a competition for high school female Juniors designed to promote confidence, maturity, independence, and ambition in order to encourage young women to pursue their dreams and develop skills important to their futures. I was introduced to the program through a family friend that has been involved with it in years past, and am more than happy to have participated.
Q: This was a competitive program and I understand there were five other high school juniors — when and where did the competition take place and what was that like?
A: This year's competition took place at Francis Scott Key High School, which happens to be my own school, on the last Saturday of January. I went into the competition anxious, but soon realized that despite its competitive nature, all of the girls were incredibly encouraging towards each other and had a genuine interest in getting to know one another, which made me incredibly proud to be a part of it. In fact, one of the awards given at the program is the "Spirit" award, in which each of the girls votes for whomever she feels most embodies the principles of the Distinguished Young Women Program. This was perhaps my favorite part of the program — it showed the true esteem and regard that myself and each of the other five participants had for each other.
Q: What was your favorite portion of the competition, or what you considered your biggest strength?
A: My favorite portion of the program was certainly the Interview portion. Though a bit nerve-wracking, the interview was an incredible opportunity not only to build the ability to communicate with and present my ideas to adults — a skill that will doubtlessly be important in my life — but also because I was given the opportunity to meet some truly amazing and inspiring men and women that had led successful, fulfilling lives and, in the case of some of the female judges, had participated in the program themselves.
Q: You won a $2,200 scholarship through the program. Do you already have an idea of what you would like to study in college? Maybe even an institution or two in mind?
A: I would like to study Biomedical Engineering in college (with the end result of becoming a Neural Engineer, hopefully!) and would very much like to attend either Johns Hopkins University, which happens to be my mother's graduate alma mater, or Duke University. Both would be an amazing experience, and I am more than grateful to the Distinguished Young Women Program for helping me to achieve my dreams.
Q: That's a fascinating, ambitious and somewhat specific goal, becoming a biomedical/neural engineer. How did you become interested in the field?
A: My family has had quite a rich focus on engineering — my father was a mechanical engineer, my mother a software engineer, and my older brother is currently studying mechanical engineering — and despite my initial desire to become a doctor, I could not help but become drawn into engineering myself, especially due to my family's history of military service, which has lead me to become interested in designing prosthetic devices for injured veterans. Both Duke and Johns Hopkins are incredible places to study for any major, but over the course of decades have proven themselves to be centers for scientific progress and discovery, something I would love being a part of.
Q: Competitions are often opportunities to showcase what you've already learned or talents you have already developed, but did you learn anything new through the course of participating in the Distinguished Young Woman program? Would you recommend it to others?
A: Distinguished Young Women is a unique program in that it is not a beauty pageant — it does not focus on the beauty and talent of the young women involved, but rather on encouraging them to develop confidence and express themselves in a positive manner. To that end, half of the program is dedicated to academic excellence and the Interview portion, in which the contestant is asked a series of questions by a panel of judges designed to assess her confidence, poise, wit, and ability to think quickly and express herself effectively. I must admit, before the program I had never been required to do something of that sort, and while preparing and competing in the program I learned how to speak with confidence and have faith in my responses, an attribute required for both the Interview and Self-Expression portions.
I would certainly recommend this program to any and all rising junior girls — it was an incredible experience for me, and is a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded, motivated young women who all have different histories and aspirations.
Q: You are representing the greater Westminster area. What does that entail? Are there further competitions where you could earn the opportunity to represent a larger area?
A: The message of the Distinguished Young Women Program is to "Be Your Best Self": to be healthy, ambitious, involved, responsible, and studious. As the Distinguished Young Woman of Greater Westminster, I am responsible for spreading this message in whatever way I can, doing my best to encourage my peers and younger children to focus, remain healthy, and never give up their dreams. Additionally, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to continue on to the Maryland State Competition, which will take place at Carroll Community College in July, after which the Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland will continue on to the National Competition.
Q: College plans aside, what are your plans for the rest of your high school career?
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A: I do my best to remain involved at FSK High School, and to that end I participate in a number of activities, namely tennis, marching band, National Honor Society, and the annual school musical. Hence, I shall continue with the aforementioned activities and do my best to further my education both at Key and at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center, where I am fortunate to be a part of the Biomedical Sciences Program.