From Miss Wisconsin to Miss America: One-on-One with Grace Stanke

By Christina Lorey

December 16, 2022

Just hours after her win, the Wausau native explains how she plans to use her platform to push for environmental change.

Miss Wisconsin no more! Wausau native and UW-Madison nuclear engineering student Grace Stanke was crowned Miss America 2023 Thursday night at the annual scholarship competition in Connecticut.

Not only is Grace the first nuclear engineering major to win the title, but the first to ever compete for it! On top of a $50,000 cash scholarship, she earned an additional $2,500 for her award-winning violin performance in Tuesday night’s talent competition.

We caught up with Grace just as her win was setting in.

UpNorthNews Editor Christina Lorey: Going into the competition, what were your expectations? How far did you think you might go?

Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke: I did think I was capable of making the Top 11 and the Top 5, in all honesty. I knew I had a strong interview, and I knew I had a lot going for me as a nuclear engineering student and someone who had a very unusual social impact initiative. But I definitely wasn’t in the state of mind to expect to win.

At what point in the night did you actually think, “I might win this”?

My mindset started to change throughout the week. Tuesday night was a pivotal moment for me. After that talent preliminary win [and earning $2,500 in scholarships], I realized, “Hey, the judges actually like a nuclear engineer.”

You looked absolutely stunned when they called your name one final time and you were crowned. [Click here to watch.] What was the first thing that went through your head in that moment?

There were no actual thoughts, just noise.

What are you most excited for in your year as Miss America? 

I’m excited to advocate for nuclear energy and clean energy all across the country. This is also an opportunity represent America, a global superpower that has the power to lead the change to zero-carbon energy around the world.

How will you use what you’ve learned at the UW in your new role?

As a nuclear engineering student, I’ve learned so much about clean energy. I’m excited to speak internationally about how we can transition to using nuclear power, hydroelectric power, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and all of these other sources of clean energy for a cleaner future.

Grace is the third Miss Wisconsin to become Miss America, after Laura Koeppeler in 2011 and Terry Meeuwsen in 1973.


From Miss Wisconsin to Miss America: One-on-One with Grace Stanke


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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