Following a win as Miss Maine Collegiate America 2011 last November, Shannon Folsom found herself standing at center stage once again – this time as the newly crowned Miss Collegiate America 2011 at the pageant’s nationwide finale Jan. 8 in San Antonio, Texas.

The win marks a rarity among Mainers at the national pageant level.

The challenges facing Folsom in those first few moments of victory involved nestling a bouquet of red roses and a trophy for best evening gown in one arm and using her free hand to wave a “thank you” to the judges and the audience while attempting to keep an ill-pinned crown atop her head.

Likely, the bigger balancing act Folsom will face this year will be in attempting to retain or better her 3.9 point average and dean’s list status as a sophomore enrolled in pre-med studies at the University of Maine honors college at Orono while fulfilling her pageant duties to make appearances around the state and across the country.

In the next few months, she will perform at pageants, a Maine Red Claws game and at a bicentennial celebration at Thornton Academy, her high school alma mater.

Those who know Folsom best, including Deb Landry, Miss Maine Collegiate America Pageant director and Crossroads Youth Center founder, say she is up to the challenge.

“Shannon is focused, driven and incredibly intelligent,” said Landry. “She works hard to maintain good grades and stay healthy and fit. That makes her a good role model for young people wanting to achieve the same goals.”

As a singer, violinist and theater performer, Folsom wouldn’t have lacked for talent if it had been a required element of the competition. Rather, it was her stage presence, poise and communication skills that wowed contest judges in the pageant that forgoes swimsuit and talent contests to focus on contestants’ academic and community service record.

Folsom’s mentor, Dr. Christine Blake, the current Mrs. Maine America, said, “In the day of reality television and adolescents making poor choices, it is important to expose our youth to successful, intelligent people and their efforts to make a difference in our country by being positive role models.”

Folsom is pursuing a career in the medical field as a kinesiology major, assisted by the $10,000 scholarship she won with the title. She plans to use the platform to educate the masses about childhood obesity. It’s a subject close to Shannon’s heart.

Once an overweight adolescent, Folsom credits community theater with helping her find her voice, make friends and work through her sense of awkwardness.

“It was a real self-esteem builder for me,” said Shannon.

At Thornton, she was involved in Crossroads and the youth advocacy group Project, and worked on documentary films and live presentations performed across the state.

Folsom’s story of her transformation from overweight adolescent to a fit teen will be told as one of three vignettes in a film being produced by Crossroads.

Folsom also is speaker for the Let’s Go! Maine 5-2-1-0 initiative to end childhood obesity by advocating for healthy eating and exercise habits.

“It’s important for me to talk to young people about accepting who they are, working through that sense of awkwardness, and being comfortable in their own skin,” said Folsom.

The randomly selected interview question posed to Folsom during the televised competition asked her to comment on the public’s perception of pageants as beauty contests.

“This pageant isn’t about competing with other women based on beauty,” said Folsom. “It is an opportunity to meet other amazing women and talk about the things that are important to all of us.

“Rather than having a negative effect, this pageant has actually empowered me and given me a platform to address the things I’m passionate about, which is healthy living.”

A daughter of Ed and Lauren Folsom of Saco, she previously won the Miss Maine Outstanding Teen (a sister organization of the Miss America program) in 2008.

She placed in the group’s top five academically and was offered a four-year scholarship to Troy University in Alabama. She declined the invitation, preferring to further her education at her parents’ collegiate alma mater and be more of a presence in her home state.

“I am very proud to represent my state,” said Folsom. “Having a Mainer win a title (at the national level of competition) doesn’t happen every day.”

 

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: [email protected]