Jessica Gagen made history in 2022 when she became the first redhead woman in history to be crowned Miss England in the annual beauty contest.
Aside from her exploits in the fashion and modelling world, Jess has the distinction of having a passion for STEM, receiving a BEng in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Liverpool in 2023. Encouraged into STEM from an early age by her toolmaker father, Jess was initially reluctant to pursue this route due to the perception of it being a male-dominated world, something that she’s keen to use her newfound platform to dispel.
In September 2023, Morson hosted its inaugural STEM Changemakers Summit at the Morson Maker Space at the University of Salford. A keynote speaker at the event, Jess sat down with PathFinders to discuss the story of her life, her career, her aspirations for the future, how she’s using her platform during the Miss World contest in December to inspire and encourage girls into STEM, and much more.
“I was very much into my STEM subjects at school and I picked STEM A-levels as well, but I was very conflicted as to what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a little bit of everything and potentially I could say I still fit within that category now. But my interest in engineering only really came to surface when I left school.
So when I was 19 or 20 I thought about different pathways and opportunities and my background before that had been in fashion modelling.
So I identified what I liked about that industry, being the variety and what subjects would encompass that and engineering was what I picked.
I was told from a young age that I would be good in engineering by my dad. My dad was a tool maker by trade so he always used to say ‘Jess you would be a good engineer’. It was years down the line until I was interested, I always had an interest in aerospace because he used to take me to airshows so every year I’d go to Southport airshow.
It later down the line when I decided I needed to do a subject which is going to give me a lot of different options. Which was going to be interesting, challenging, have a lot of variety and tick the same box as modelling, so, essentially working with different people every day on different projects and, and so aerospace engineering was subject to go for.
I was scouted for the Miss Lancashire competition. I was very apprehensive to begin with because I didn’t really know what the contest stood for and there was a lot of stereotypes surrounding it, which I hadn’t been educated about.
And when I got to learn that the contest was all about empowering women and standing up for a cause that, you’re genuinely passionate about.
I realised I could use that platform for change and I could potentially take that regionally or nationally. Now luckily enough because I’ve now won the national contest, I can take this internationally. I’ve got a platform where I can speak about engineering to young girls and diminish stereotypes surrounding the idea that femininity and engineering are mutually exclusive.Jess Gagen on inspiring girls into STEM.
So that’s why I went back to then win the Miss England competition. That’s what it was about because I came second in my first year and I thought, I need to do this.
I was picked on when I was at school for having red hair. So then to win a national contest, which historically was based on beauty – not so much anymore but everybody connects those two ideas – it really was a fantastic moment because I really felt it resonated within the redhead community.
I had so many messages of support and so many messages from parents, and children who told me that they had been through the same things, which I’d gone through. So to be able to stand up and, represent us on a world stage. I mean, at the moment, unless they crown any new girls, I’m the only redhead that’s going to be in the Miss World contest this year so I am so immensely proud to get to represent England.
I think it’s really important to encourage young people into STEM careers because STEM is the future. Engineering is the backbone, I believe, of the country, and typically it takes a village. A lot of people, assume for me an aerospace engineer, oh, she builds aircraft. Although that might be the case in some instances, typically it’s an umbrella over a lot of different fields. So whether that’s chemistry, biology, obviously different types of science being physics, then subsections of those subjects as well. I mean we’re talking thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, material science. There are so many avenues to go down in engineering and I think it’s really important, even not focusing on a job profile as such but focusing on the skills that our young people can gain through studying STEM because they can lead them into many different avenues in different industries as a whole as well.
So my plan at the moment, is I’m going to put absolutely everything into my STEM campaign leading up to the Miss World final, which is going to be in December this year. I’ll be competing to potentially be the first aerospace engineer to win Miss World, so that would be really cool.
If was able to gain that platform because I think that would be fantastic for the world of STEM because it really would diminish stereotypes surrounding both STEM as an industry and also the beauty pageant industry. So I’m really hoping I can combine them both. But then aside from that, obviously there’s every chance that I won’t win that contest. And my passion is still within STEM.
I still plan to carry on working with schools, going into schools, advertising opportunities in STEM and different careers. And then because of my career, I have a very potentially ambitious dream. I’d love to work in TV and educate young kids about engineering through TV.
Aside from that, I’m interested in working in new technology, so we’ll see where that leads.”