Ep 215 Conversation on Empowering Women, Leadership & Daring with Sonia Bowie

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Join me today as I share a recent conversation with Sonia Bowie.  Sonia is an amazing leader, mentor, mom and so much more for young women at national levels.  She was named Miss Maryland 2000, competed in Miss America, and continues to give back in ways that help empower young women at many ages.  

We discussed the importance of empowering women, leadership, daring to be your unique self, the importance of networking – and how we all wear invisible crowns.  Join me today to learn more not only about the organizations she is closely involved with – but how you can help young women as well.

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Episode Transcript:

(Transcribed with OtterAi with minimal edits)

You are listening to the it’s your time podcast and I’m your host certified life coach Michelle Arnold Bourque and today’s episode I’m discussing empowering women leadership and daring to go after your dreams with Miss Marilyn 2000 Sonia Bowie.

0:23 Welcome to the It’s Your Time Podcast, the podcast where busy professionals like you get the practical solutions and support you need to gain control of your schedule so you can strive to be the best in your career, but without the stress and overwhelm. If you’re looking to increase your energy and decrease your stress, you are in the right place.

0:44 Hello, hello. Hello. Welcome back to the podcast friends. I’m so excited for this week’s episode, I had the privilege of speaking to Sonia Bowie recently, and today I am sharing the fun and educational conversation with you. Now let me just start by sharing a little info on Sonia. She was born to a Pakistani father and a Colombian mother and she discusses this in our conversation and Sonia came to America at a young age where she has since thrived, earning her BA degree from the University of Maryland College Park, her Master’s from the University of Maryland Global Campus. She has an executive certificate and nonprofit management at Georgetown University and a certificate and women’s leadership from Cornell University. Now in the year 2000, Sonia captured the title of Miss Maryland and represented her state at the nationally televised Miss America competition, earning listen to this earning her enough scholarship awards to obtain her graduate degrees. Pretty impressive. Now, Sonia has worked with various nonprofit organizations and helped establish national youth leadership and workforce development initiatives. Throughout the US I am telling you our conversation was so amazing. She has such energy. And she currently works at Hood College and assist faculty with the daily operations of the doctoral program and organizational leadership. Now Sonia remains an active volunteer with nationally recognized scholarship organizations that enable young women to pursue their academic ambitions. And you know, that is totally my jam. I always talk about the ripple effect here. And Sonya is an amazing example of that. Additionally, she has served on the Diversity Equity and Inclusion task force for the Miss America organization, and assisted with development of life skills workshops for young female leaders in the Distinguished Young Women program. And listen to this, she has some spare time y’all. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the piano, horse riding yoga and working out. She and her family currently reside in Frederick, Maryland. And we talked about the importance of helping women especially young women embrace what makes them unique and dare to go after their dreams. After we were done recording the episode, we actually started talking about one of the young girls who participated in the young distinguished women program. She was a young girl who had anxiety and ADHD and through the process by which they really learn the life skills and competitive nature of the Distinguished Young woman program. She was able to present herself onstage, play the piano in front of everyone, and went on to win her local title. Sonia was saying what a tremendous difference this organization has made in the young girl’s life. I am telling you this work is so amazing. And what we discussed is important, not only for the young girls that we were talking about, but for all women of every age, we all need to hear this and be reminded of it. And I just really hope that more girls hear about it sooner in life. Now. I will include all of the links in the notes and if you want to help volunteer, so when he talks about a number of ways to do that, the energy that she brought is great, and I really look forward to being more involved in what she does. So hopefully you enjoy our conversation. And without further ado, here you go.



Well, thank you so much for being here. As we get started. Can you just go ahead and tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, maybe your background and who you love helping and all of the goodness.

Great, thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here to share some fun information and hopefully educational information for the listeners and they know when

5:00 One that can participate in these programs, that would be great. So my name is Sonia Bowie. And I currently work for Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, I work in the doctoral program. So I assist the entire department and the students and faculty and staff. I love what I do, because I’m a big advocate for mentoring and giving back and education. So a little bit about myself, I came to this country when I was a little girl. My mom is from Colombia, and my father’s from Pakistan. So I grew up with a very diverse view of the world, which was a good thing now looking back, but as a young person trying to fit in, it was really hard. And I couldn’t really find anyone that looked like me, or had a similar background. So it was really difficult for me sometimes to understand the importance of knowing various languages, especially when you’re being teased about it. Unknown Speaker 5:58 And it was just very difficult for me to navigate. Even though I really didn’t know what kind of world I was being thrown into.

6:06 Years later, I was able to find, as they call find your tribe, in college, and I have been in touch, I still stay in touch with a lot of my friends from then. And I went to the University of Maryland in College Park, and I’m also an alumni of Georgetown University. And I’ve taken some courses at Cornell. So it’s a lot about leadership and mentorship, which is something that has always stayed with me. And now I’m involved not just as an educator, but as a mom of two young lady, young girls were teenagers, I know the importance of embracing your background, never being concerned or shy or regretful of who you are always embracing what makes you different, because that is your superpower. And so now I volunteer a lot with the Miss America organization, as well as the Distinguished Young Women program, which I’m sure we will get into in a little bit.

7:02 Lately, and you know, a mutual friend of ours, Brian had connected us and when I was kind of looking at all of your stuff, what I loved, what you had mentioned is your how much work you do to empower young people. And I thought that’s why it was so important to have you on here, especially, you know, I work with younger women, just women in general, I feel like it seems like you kind of led the way with that embracing who you are. Can you talk a little bit more about Miss America. And I just want everyone to notice I did not call it the pageant because we were talking earlier about how much it has changed, and really what the goals are now with the Miss America organization. Absolutely. So when I was little, my parents would, they didn’t have a lot of money. So when they were able to go away on vacation, they would go to Atlantic City, New Jersey, and just the beach and being around a different environment. And every time they went, they would fall on the same weekend that the Miss America at the time Miss America pageant was taking place. And they thought, Oh, look how beautiful. So pretty. Look at all the girls, they look so lovely. Fast forward about 15 years later, and their daughter is competing for the Miss America title. And I would have never guessed in a million years that I would have won the title of Miss Maryland and gone on to Miss America. And the way I stumbled on that is I was dared to compete. I was in grad school and I needed money for tuition. How about that I didn’t know that part.

8:31 And being Colombian, you always watch this universe, which I thought was all the same, but they’re not. So there was a Miss America organization and a Miss USA pageant. The Miss USA pageant goes on to Miss Universe, and that’s a for profit organization. And they on their website, come right out and say we are a beauty pageant. Great, own it. Miss America, on the other hand, was all about scholarship and giving girls a chance to continue their education. So I competed, I made top 10 The first year I decided okay, I’m done. This was great. Did not go back the following year. And then the year after one of my good friends that I made during Miss Maryland said you need to compete and I loved it. And so I said okay, then I’m going to really put my all in it. And I ended up winning the title of Miss Maryland 2000. And what I learned is that it broke down stereotypes for me because the first time around, I thought me I’m not like Miss Universe. I’m not like Miss America. That’s not me and I like to eat my cheeseburgers. I’m not gonna give out food for this competition.

9:37 Now, years later, I’m giving back through the Miss America organization by mentoring young girls, I don’t charge them. Even though there are pageant coaches out there, what they call, you know, mentoring coaches. I do it for free because it gave me so much. And I wanted to encourage young women to continue following that path because it’s not what it used to be.

Right so you we were talking earlier and you’re saying that it’s almost more or less like they have to prepare for a TED talk. And I think that’s important, not just in the realm of Miss America, but even for people who are listening in any sort of career, right, especially young women and device sales or doing presentations or regular sales, like, what are some of the things that you share with the young women that you work with as far as maybe what’s important or tips or tools? And in order to help them? Sure, well, people will ask, why is Miss America still so relevant, and while the last few years, they’ve really changed, they have eliminated the swimsuit competition for the Miss program. And the myths are 18 to 26, they put more of an emphasis on your social impact initiative, which is a cause that you hold dear to your heart. And you research it, you learn about it, many of these girls, or young women have these social impact initiatives because it impacted their life or someone they loved in some way. So we have from advocating for homelessness, to stem many social impact initiatives about women in the STEM fields. And also we have a lot of young women that are just advocating for being kind to one another and what their projects have been throughout the years. So it’s so important, I believe, to have these young women understand that they need to speak to people and communicate, it’s not all about being on your phone, texting, social media. And social media can be a tool to advance your platform or advance your impact. But it’s not a tool to compare yourself to others. And that’s what we are spiraling. When I see I have two teens, as I mentioned before, and thankfully they’re not that engrossed with social media, because I tried to make sure they have other things that they can put their phone down and do something else. And but a lot of these young girls are falling into that trap of, I’m not good enough, because I don’t look like her, or I’m not doing this. And I tell my young women that I mentor, use the social media platforms to mentor and inspire others. You know, certainly put out some information of what you’re doing in the community so that you can inspire you’re not bragging, you are encouraging. And that is important. Yes. And I think that’s so important. And I know that I have been guilty of that too. And I hear I love peloton and I love Robin Rs. And because I feel like she’s also like empowered women and strong. And she always says like enough of the humble brag like we can still be proud and also want others to do well and be proud of them. And I think that’s such an important message for everyone. And having taken women leadership courses and various universities, I’ve noticed that women tend to as you said, humbly, state, if they’ve done something while gentleman will come right out and say look, I did this and kudos to me. And that shows a strong leader, but women are expected not to speak out about their accomplishments, because then they’re being too abrasive, and the Miss America organization and all other scholarship programs that really focus on interview skills, and how to present yourself, how to dress appropriately. And especially for your age. All of these tips are so important, as well as with the Miss America organization, there’s a talent portion, it’s important to show off what you can do for fun, whether it’s playing an instrument, reading a poem, it could be a whole gamut of talent out there, we had one basketball player come out and do all these cool dribble.And that was the coolest thing, because it’s a talent. But no one thinks it’s the traditional talent. And that’s what I love about the Miss America organization because they’re really pushing towards what needs to be done to focus on the future. Yeah, I love that. And I feel like two things that you’ve said, now I see kind of a theme of like, doing what you want and having fun along the way, like finding your social impact story, finding what it is that you do for fun to to, to be able to exhibit that. And I think, you know, reading playing bigger that book right now. And Tara Moore, I think it is is the name of the author. Well, I was just reading the chapter on how especially young girls through school, when you’re talking about leadership and stepping up for different jobs, like we have been socialized to kind of always, you know, get the approval of the teacher and do really well and prepare, prepare, prepare. And then when you get into the real world, you have to be able to improvise, and you have to be able to put yourself out there. And it was funny. We were just on a call recently with one of my employee resource groups, and they’re talking about how to your point, women will wait until all the boxes are checked before they apply for a promotion or a job and guys are like yeah, let’s go Wait, what was what was the job again? Unknown Speaker 14:41 Right self advocacy is very important and speaking your truth. I think that is so important for young women to know that it’s okay to compete healthy, you know, with another woman and also applaud that other woman. If they advance. It’s so important to as they say in the end In our world of crowns and sashes, you know, it’s important to fix the other person’s crown. But if not, then we failed. And that it’s so important to to continue promoting that message. And just to show what a stalker I’m about Robert Marzano, she always adds to fix the crown. And you don’t have to tell them that you fixed it, right. Like, it’s so much more of an abundance mindset. Like, there’s so much more out there for all of us when we can think like this. And I love what you said, compete. But do it in a way that we know everybody can win, like, basically win, right? Do well, exactly. Yeah. That’s so good. Now, can you talk a little bit about the Distinguished Young Women’s organization because I, I looked into that, and I was like, I totally got to send this to my nieces. And for everyone listening, it might sound a little bit younger than our age of people listening. But I think the concepts and tools are so important for any age. And I think that there could be people who might know people and I love. And you mentioned this earlier, like the ripple effect, having your girls go out and inspire others. Like, I feel like that’s so important that we do that for women. Absolutely. Well, the Distinguished Young Women program is another nonprofit organization. It’s based out of Alabama. And it has been around for decades, just like the Miss America organization just celebrated its 100th year anniversary, the Distinguished Young Women is half a century if not more old, as well. So it has been around it used to be called Junior Miss. And because they are not considered a definitely not a pageant at all. They want that raw 16 year old girl to come in and be herself. And the Distinguished Young Women program awards with medallions they do not give crowns or sashes, but it’s very similar in the structure. So for example, there’s a private interview with judges, and the interview is based off of their bio sheet. So whatever they put on the sheet, they’re not going to get thrown any off off the cuff question, to know what they’re going to be asked. But it’s more about helping these young women present themselves and how do you speak eloquently or, you know, if yes, we want to see your personality, we want to see you smile. And also again, how to dress for an interview. Just like if you were to go to a college scholarship interview, or a job interview, we want you to feel your best. And it doesn’t have to be anything expensive, you know, many of us and distinguished young women, the volunteers will help girls find things that they can borrow. So it’s not you know, this is all free. The Nam is a Distinguished Young woman isn’t raised, it’s free. And then they have talent, and they have how to present yourself on a stage Yes, in front of people as well. But you’re not being judged by what you look like you’re being judged on your own merit. And there’s a scholastics portion which is also looked at and scored. So we want young women who care about their future and their education, whether it’s trade school, community college, or a four year institution, we want you and it’s only open to girls and their junior year in high school. So 11th graders, once that year passes, you can’t participate anymore. And you can find information on distinguished y w.org. That is the website. And a young lady can just sign up or a mom or an aunt or an uncle can sign up someone that they know who might be a rising junior. And right now in Frederick, we are currently accepting applications from juniors. So we will then reach back out in January and go from there. Unknown Speaker 18:30 Great. And I think it’s so important because, you know, you talk about the presentation on stage, but I feel like that’s life, right? Like that’s just giving them an insight as to like what it’s going to be. Absolutely. And we also offer free life skills workshops. So we had, I was really happy that I was able to work this with one of the chairs for the state program, Nicole, we talked about how it’s more than just being in the program that one day, we need to establish some type of connection, partnership sisterhood. So throughout the year, we offer free workshops, self defense, and we invite young ladies to bring their friends guys or girls can join. We have a self defense class, we have an auto care class, how to check your oil, how to check your battery, how to change a tire, yes, we’ve had girls change their tires right there.

19:21 And also when you go away to college or when you move out of your home, financial literacy. We have a lot of different workshops that many mentors and community members give back with their time so we don’t charge it’s just an opportunity for young people to come together and learn new skills that will be helpful to them in the future. I think that is so important. I was just recently doing an interview with someone for mindset coaching, money mindset coaching and I I feel like again as women and I have been guilty of it and I still even at my age work. I’m just like, I don’t want to be greedy. I probably shouldn’t have too much like all of this thinking that comes from, you know, past years that I want to tell young women now like, it’s okay to make money, like I believe that might make you more of the goodness that you are not that money is all evil. And it’s also, again, being a self advocate, because we have been taught to be quiet, except what is offered to us, especially in the professional world. So if we can self advocate, and have that inner confidence to state to our boss, a supervisor that look, I’m up for promotion, or I think I deserve a salary raise and you say it politely, respectfully as anyone would man or woman. But don’t be shy to share your accomplishments and be based strong about it and be proud about it. So I think that’s important as well, that it’s just a different dynamic of women that we really need to raise stronger leaders. And we’re getting there with these programs. Unknown Speaker 20:54 I love all that you’re doing because it goes so far back to the younger like even before we started recording, we’re talking about how my niece was too young, but you have other programs for like even smaller kids. Unknown Speaker 21:06 The Miss America organization has Princess programs throughout the whole country. And the princesses get little miniature Miss America official crowns and sashes. But they also get to do a lot of fun appearances with the older title holders, and but they also get mentored. And with distinguished young women, we have the Little Sisters program, and very similar, they don’t get crowns, they don’t get sashes but it’s still something more than just a crown. We all have an invisible crown on our head. I don’t care if you were ever a title holder or not. And we need to learn to embrace it and use it and just fix that crown and go on with our day. Oh, I just got chills like love that’s gonna be one of those like, quotable, visible crown. I love that. I’ll take Robins out of the mix, and I’ll add yours. Unknown Speaker 21:51 Thank you.

21:53 It’s still good. And then do you also keep in touch with them, like at the other end after they have gone through Miss America and like onto careers like how that. So what’s really amazing about the Miss America organization, as well as the Distinguished Young Women program is the sisterhood that develops and there’s a lot of crossover our current Miss America, Mr. Broyles, who is Miss Alaska. She was distinguished young woman of Alaska in her high school years. Our last year as Miss Maryland, Lydia, she ended up Lydia sown she was Miss Maryland and she was distinguished young woman of Virginia when she lived there. So we had quite a few young women that follow and continue because it’s all about scholarship. So it’s important to continue mentoring. So the Distinguished Young Women program will also connect with Girl Scouts. And many of titleholders and Miss Americas have been Girl Scouts, Heather French, for example, Miss America 2000, she was a big advocate, and still is a Girl Scout advocate because she was one. So it’s very important to just continue encouraging these young women and girls to grab those opportunities to mentor to inspire, and to dare to take that next level and dream. Because if you don’t dream, then you don’t become a woman of vision. Right? You just remain and I think to the other important part of that is the networking piece of it, right? So it’s a sisterhood, but like to have people realize, like once you get into corporate or career trade, whatever it is, right? Like, it’s also like, not only who you know, but who knows you. And so that’s so important. So this past few years in 2016, I started the Miss Maryland sorority, and the sorority is even though it’s within our state, we still make those connections. And now we have professional women who are in the workforce looking for interns looking for employees. And now we can connect the current group of young women, the younger women looking for opportunities with these Miss Maryland’s who are just trailblazers, same thing with the Miss America organization. I know one person in every state. Now I can just go to any state and call them or let them know that I’m coming. And it’s happened before where I visited Hawaii and Miss Hawaii who was who became our Miss America and my class and G bar Akio she greeted me and we just hung out together. So just having all these connections on a personal level, as well as a professional level is inspiring. And I have asked these, these women, if they would help mentor the girls that I know help them mock interview over zoom, or just give them tips about their talent. It works. It’s just a great sisterhood and a network.

24:40 Great and I just love there’s so much goodness that you’re bringing into all of this – if we missed anything, like I feel like there’s just so much I have so much to offer and I love everything because I think it’s so important at all of the different stages at all the different ages like what it is that you’re teaching these young women and then to think of the ripple effect when they get older and pass it on. It’s, it’s awesome. I just want people to keep an open mind. You know, just like I learned when I was dared to compete in the Miss Maryland competition, that it’s not just what you see on TV. And sometimes what you see on TV is done for ratings and for sponsorship, of course, but the real work is off that stage. And it’s, it’s just something that is an incredible opportunity that paid for my entire master’s degree and I walked out debt free, and why not pass that on when we have millions of dollars and in kind tuition scholarships that are awarded at the local level at the state level, and, of course, the national level at Miss America, and distinguished young women. It’s like I said, it’s absolutely free and just for participating, juniors in high school can get half tuition in various institutions and Distinguished Young woman has over 100 partners colleges world nationwide. So it’s on the website, you can see the list of colleges that offer full scholarships, half scholarships, and, and everything else in between. That is amazing. And you have definitely changed. Like my thoughts. I used to always watch it and love it with the waves and the you know, it’s for sure, like, I’ve learned so much in our short time, like being connected and talking. It’s amazing.

Thank you, I just say please pass this along that Miss america.org and distinguished y w.org. Check it out doesn’t hurt to at least get information before you say no. Absolutely.

And then is there a place? If someone is listening and they want to be one of the mentors or volunteer to help? Is there a place to should they contact you? Or how should they go about that? Yes, they can contact me through the Miss Marilyn sorority email. I don’t know if you want me to say it here. Or if you want, you can say it. And I’ll also put it in the notes. I’ll put everything in the notes. And then if you want to mention it, because sometimes people are driving so sure it’s just miss Maryland, MissMarylandsorority@gmail.com. Very simple.

27:05 Excellent. We’ll be sure to have that all in there. Thank you so much. This has been amazing. Well, thank you. This has been a dream for me. You know, just as I said, an immigrant coming to America and having that opportunity to even possibly represent the nation. And I feel like we all represent it in some way or another. You don’t need that Miss America crown to do that. But just having the opportunities and opening up my eyes to new to other incredible options. And at the same time now being able to give back. I feel like God is definitely using my me as an instrument of his plan. And I’m encouraging more young women to just continue following their dreams and embracing these opportunities. I love that dare right, just dare to do it. Dare to do it?

So good. Thank you.

27:55 Wasn’t that so much fun, I love all of the work that she is doing with young women and all of what she is helping them with is what we can all do for ourselves. I love what she said. We all wear invisible crowns. And a crown is the highest part of something. And I truly believe the work that we do here every single day is bringing the highest part of ourselves of yourself to each and every day. And if you’re interested in any of the opportunities that Sonia discussed, please check out all of the links in the show notes. Okay, friends, that’s what I have for you today. Let’s circle back next week but for now, make it a great day. Take care Unknown Speaker 28:51 Did you know you can take this work to a deeper level with me one on one. Go to Michellebourquecoaching.com and click on get started to begin

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