For some people, rocket science is merely a term used to describe something difficult, and being Miss England is a title many can only dream of. The terms have typically forever been mutually exclusive – until now. Read below the inspiring story of Jessica Gagen, Beauty Queen turned Aerospace Engineer, who uses her title to inspire the next generation of female engineers.
“I’m a worker bee, always have been, always will be” the fresh graduate says as she flashes that iconic beauty queen smile. “The journey to get to this point was a rocky 5 years in the making, and I faced challenges before I’d even began. I think it’s important that today’s youth know that sometimes things don’t go entirely to plan, and that’s perfectly okay!”
Jess is passionate about getting more women into her field, and spends a lot of time visiting schools up and down the country giving free talks about STEM subjects, aimed to advertise them to the next generation… But what actually is Aerospace Engineering?
“It’s the primary field of engineering concerning the development of air and spacecraft” she explains. “It’s very challenging, covering topics like aerodynamics, structural mechanics, programming and advanced materials. It equips candidates with a range of skills sought after by different industries, making them highly employable in the fields of science, technology and finance. I absolutely loved it.”
Before starting University Jess studied a foundation year in physics whilst working weekend night shifts in a hotel, as she didn’t have the right A Level subjects to get in. In 2019 she started her Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Liverpool and then COVID hit half way through first year – pushing the course entirely online.
“From then onwards I started working 40hrs a week in ASDA as a keyworker, doing four 2am-12pm shifts a week! I’d return home to do that day’s online lectures and assignments and then stop at 8pm to get ready for bed, before the cycle would repeat – I was constantly knackered, but I was a mature student and had bills to pay.”
During this time she noticed a lack of females in her cohort – only about 10% of her class were girls, so she made it her mission to advertise the subject to the next generation through social media – which subsequently lead her to be scouted for the Miss England competition at the start of 2021.
She laughs as she explains how she wasn’t sure if the message was legitimate to begin, but it was – she ended up winning the title of Miss Lancashire and placed 2nd in that year’s national contest out of thousands of applicants.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into becoming Miss England, and I really wanted to win because I knew I could use the platform to get more girls into engineering. There’s about 10 rounds in the contest and for my charity efforts I took it upon myself to run 5k every day in fancy dress, firstly for 40 days and then for a further 56 that summer, which I was doing whilst still working shifts in the supermarket, the second year of my degree and an internship in Software Engineering!”
Jess was then accepted onto the integrated Masters course and competed for Miss England again during her third year, eventually becoming the first redhead in history to win the contest in the October 2022.
“I was ecstatic and life went crazy, I was in my fourth and final year by that point, I was being pulled for interviews left right and centre – I’d be in an aerodynamics lecture and get a call from BBC and then I’d end up on the telly the next day.”
“I carried on with my Masters year for 8 weeks, but I kept burning out because I was juggling so much. I’d be in University for 14hrs a day, even on weekends. I had insomnia, constant headaches, a terribly painful chest and I couldn’t concentrate – my lungs felt like they were hurting so I could only take short breaths, so I made the difficult decision to pause my Master’s Degree”.
“It was an extremely hard choice, but it was the only option available to me. I had to protect my health and my grade – I was set to be travelling around the world with the Miss England team from February, a once in a lifetime opportunity, and had I carried on I’d have probably got low marks, which would pull down all of the hard work I’d put in the previous years.”
It sounds tough – but Jess explains how her university was fantastic: “they understood my situation and let me swap back onto the Bachelor’s course – which I’d already completed by that point, meaning I could still graduate at the same time as my class, but with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering, which I could then use to access a Masters in the future. Best of both worlds, really.”
Jess has managed to achieve her degree whilst fulfilling her duties as the reigning Miss England, she’s inspired thousands of children up and down the country, she’s a hot favourite to win Miss World and can still go back to get her Master’s when the time suits – proof that passion and prioritisation are key.
“The lads in class felt like little brothers, we had the best relationship and I missed them incredibly when I paused that final year, so it was lovely still being able to graduate with them. I’m so proud to call them my friends – we became Aerospace Engineers together!”
So what’s in store for Jess in the future? Jess grins and flashes a cheeky smile: “I wish I knew! If I win Miss World, I’ll fulfil my duties and then go back to get that Masters I had to put on hold – that would be the dream outcome. Otherwise I’m considering different options in both engineering and finance – I’m really interested in fields which will allow me to learn about new technology, but only time will tell!”
SEE THE PRESS ARTICLES WHO HAVE FEATURED JESSICA’S GRADUATION HERE
LANCASHIRE TELEGRAPH – Skelmersdale Miss England winner graduates as rocket scientist
THE SUN – Miss England Jessica Gagen was bullied for her looks at school – and has amazing real-life career
WIGAN TODAY – Miss England Jessica Gagen who was bullied for being ginger has sights set on becoming first beauty queen astronaut to travel to outer space
CLAYTON NEWS DAILY – Miss England becomes a Rocket Scientist
GOOD NEWS NETWORK – Miss England Inspires Girls to Be Rocket Scientists After Graduating With Aerospace Engineering Degree
LIVERPOOL ECHO – Miss England Wants to be first beauty queen to travel to space
THE SCOTTISH SUN – Miss England Jessica Gagen was bullied for her looks at school – and has amazing real-life career