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“Don’t let anyone discourage you.”
Lela Gracy is pictured with her Miss Tennessee Tech 2023 sash and tiara. Photo Credit: Brianna Rankin.

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - Last fall, Lela Gracy, a senior at Tennessee Tech University and Fayetteville, Tenn. native, donned her best formal attire and stood on the football field at homecoming to be crowned Miss Tennessee Tech 2023. The coronation was complete with a tiara, sash and flowers.

But the reigning homecoming queen would be the first to tell you that she’s probably more comfortable discussing the nuances of ransomware and endpoint protection than pageantry.

Gracy, who is pursuing a double major in computer science with a concentration in cybersecurity and French, says she was “shocked” to take home the title of Miss Tennessee Tech. In a new interview for Tech’s “College Town Talk” podcast, she explained how she plans to use her platform to challenge stereotypes and call attention to women’s representation in STEM fields.

“I’m actually one of the first non-sorority candidates to get Miss Tennessee Tech, I believe since the 1960s,” said Gracy, who was nominated for the homecoming court by Tech’s Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) student chapter.

With research showing that women still make up a quarter or fewer of workers in computing and engineering fields, Gracy says her message to other women considering a STEM-focused education or career path is, “Don’t let anyone discourage you.”

“Never let other people make those choices for you,” said Gracy, who shared in the interview how she had previously been discounted by others because of “dumb blonde” stereotypes.

“Don’t let anyone stereotype you. Prove them wrong every single time,” she added.

While Gracy says her 16-year-old self would have “never, ever in a million years thought about running for Miss Tennessee Tech,” she explains that the support she has found from classmates and professors at Tech helped give her the confidence to take on new challenges.

For her, that has included serving as a senior ambassador for Tech’s Cybersecurity Education Research and Outreach Center, or CEROC, a role as associate justice for the Student Government Association’s Supreme Court and serving as a student ambassador for the College of Engineering, just to name a few.

“Everyone here is so supportive. I don’t mean just students and my peers, even though they have been nothing but supportive, but faculty as well. They really just want to see you succeed,” said Gracy. “I’ve definitely gained a lot of confidence as a young woman in STEM, and I’ve learned that, even though it’s kind of cliché, anything you put your mind to, you really can accomplish.”

While Gracy has amassed enough credit hours to be declared a senior, her double major means she anticipates continuing her studies until spring 2026 – and she intends to make the most of it.

Over the summer, Gracy will travel to Dahlgren, VA. for an internship at the Naval Surface Warfare Center. In the spring of 2025, she will study abroad for the semester in France.

“My goal is to work for the U.S. government abroad,” said Gracy. “I really want to be able to combine both the field of cybersecurity and a foreign language and utilize those at once.”

Learn more about the Department of Computer Science within Tech’s College of Engineering at