What I love about medicine is that you’re a lifelong learner, teacher and advocate. The experiences I had at Bucknell gave me the skills to do all of that in more ways than one.
When she entered her junior year at Bucknell, competing in beauty pageants was nowhere near Manya Saaraswat '19's mind. The biology major was far too focused on conducting Presidential Fellowship research on seabirds and charting a career path in medicine.
The child of physicians, Saaraswat was just 14 when she began volunteering in the neonatal intensive care unit at her local hospital. There, the Morganville, N.J., resident got her first glimpse at how pediatric health care quality in the United States differs from developing countries like India, where Saaraswat's family lived until she was 3.
"Those experiences really inspired me to help address disparities in global pediatric care in any way possible," Saaraswat says. "But I never imagined pageantry would be one of the major ways I'd work to do that."
After lots of encouragement from a childhood friend, Saaraswat entered the 2018 Miss New Jersey pageant and earned first-runner up before winning Miss New Jersey on her second run a year later. In fall 2020, she returned to the pageant circuit to represent Pennsylvania in the national Miss World America competition, earning second runner-up among 51 contestants.
Through it all, equity in children's health care worldwide has been Saaraswat's persistent and powerful cause. The pageantry world, she says, "has not only given me a huge platform to raise awareness but has connected me with this network of amazing doctors and organizations to partner with."
Among those world-changing partners is the nonprofit charity SmileTrain, which took Saaraswat abroad to Jaipur, India, where she provided medical support to children undergoing cleft lip and palate surgery. Since winning the Miss New Jersey crown, she’s also spent time working at an emergency medical technician camp in Zambia in southern Africa.
Now, with her sights on medical school, Saaraswat is pursuing a master's in health policy and economics at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. As she works to be the change she seeks, Saaraswat is not only using the myriad skills she honed in Bucknell labs but also the leadership and community-building experiences from her time as a peer tutor and captain of the University’s cheerleading team — which she believes helped score her recent Miss World America title.
"What's always drawn me to medicine is the opportunity to give back to communities in need," Saaraswat says. "For me, doing advocacy through pageantry is only one piece of that. Making a real difference on the ground is the rest."