Loren McDaniel loves the culture and excitement of living in New York City, but it’s Arkansas that still has her heart — and now her homework.
McDaniel, who was named 2015 Miss Arkansas and finished in the top 15 at the ensuing Miss America pageant, recently enrolled in the Master of Public Administration Non-Profit Management Track online program at Arkansas State University.
After she graduates in 2019, McDaniel hopes to start a non-profit youth theater organization back home. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from the University of Arkansas and planned to pursue a master’s degree in that field at the University of Alabama.
“I won over $30,000 in scholarships,” McDaniel said. “I moved to New York, and I went to an acting conservatory for a year. Then, I realized that I really love non-profit. I worked with so many non-profit organizations while I was Miss Arkansas. I wanted to get my master’s in something that would allow me to achieve my ultimate goal.
“I still had $17,000 left in scholarships, and I really wanted to be able to say I used my Miss Arkansas money to fund my education and I was debt-free getting my master’s. I don’t know why, but that was a big sense of pride for me.”
McDaniel also worked with the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter as a local titleholder, which ignited her passion for non-profit. It was also the focus of her personal platform on domestic violence awareness, “Confidently You.”
“I was going to a community where I didn’t know what these organizations were doing or how much effort was being put into making a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “Knowing people personally who had gone through that and seeing that those resources and outreach programs were available to them, I realized this is something people need to work harder at. It was a moment of realizing that there is so much more than … get your degree, go get a job and go do this. There can actually be huge meaning to what you do.”
So, McDaniel is earning an MPA degree online while still pursuing her other dream of performing under the bright lights on Broadway.
“I’m a full-time student, but I am constantly auditioning for everything, because I don’t ever want to say that I didn’t try,” she said. “I was in a theater musical showcase in February. I got to sing with a lot of other up-and-coming performers trying to make it in the business. It was really fun to perform and walk by all of the Broadway shows to get to my venue. It made me feel a little special. Hopefully, it’s the first of many.”
McDaniel did not have any interest in competing in scholarship pageants until she attended the Miss Arkansas pageant her sophomore year at the University of Arkansas.
“I went to watch a friend compete from my hometown of Van Buren,” she said. “I thought, ‘That was a really cool experience that I didn’t know existed.’ I knew Miss America existed, but I didn’t see myself in that — I was a singer and a performer. My mom said, ‘I think you should do this. There’s scholarship money in it.'”
So, McDaniel bought two dresses and planned to compete in just two pageants. She won a talent award in the first one, the Miss University of Arkansas pageant, and then won Miss Arkansas River in 2013. Next up? Miss Arkansas.
“Two years into it, I was hooked to the service aspect and developed a passion for it,” she said. “Also, the interview aspect. I was really impressed by an organization that empowered young women to actually speak their minds, and their opinions could be heard by people who actually wanted to hear what they thought about huge things happening in our country and what we would do about it. That was very empowering.”
Once McDaniel was crowned Miss Arkansas, she had just 55 days before the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“Miss Arkansas now has a little bit more time,” McDaniel said. “I always tell them, ‘You’re so lucky.’ It was one of the best two weeks of my life. I walked away top 15 in Miss America with more scholarship money.
“I had people watching at home who got to see me on TV when my name was called. That’s really why top 15 meant a lot to me because all of my family that couldn’t be there or afford to come to Atlantic City at least got to hear my name called. That was really rewarding that we all got to experience that.”
McDaniel also works with contestants in the Miss New York, Miss Arkansas, Miss Mississippi and Miss Oklahoma organizations.
“I help them get plugged into non-profits,” she said. “I help them out with their endeavors and getting connected. There are so many non-profits that you have to be careful that you’re getting into one that is really about people and making a difference for the greater good.”
Red Wolf Royalty
Once McDaniel decided she wanted to pursue a long-term career in the non-profit realm, she discovered A-State’s online program with the help of some of her fellow pageant contestants.
“I became really good friends with multiple young women in the Miss Arkansas organization who went to A-State,” she said. “Destiny Quinn, who was recently crowned Miss A-State, is wonderful. Jade Collins is a previous Miss A-State I know, as well. I had always heard great things about the university.”
Once she researched the MPA online program curriculum, McDaniel knew she had found what she needed.
“I wanted a program to be challenging, but a lot of programs require you to take GREs and all of these tests that don’t apply to the program once you get in it,” she said. “A-State knew what they needed to do and what they didn’t need to do to be the most suitable option for students. It was an easy decision. It’s funny to me that a program back home in Arkansas was the one that was the true fit.”
McDaniel considered taking only the MPA courses she needed the most, but decided the entire curriculum was worthwhile for her goals.
“This is exactly what I was going to need for my job,” she said. “Grant writing, non-profit management and fundraising were the classes I was specifically looking for. When I realized how applicable that master’s program of non-profit management was, I thought, ‘Why would you waste time just getting a couple of classes when they have a great, structured program?'”
Although she has only taken a few courses so far, McDaniel has thoroughly enjoyed POSC 6563: Seminar in Public Administration and POSC 6633: Public Information Management.
“I coach girls on interviews and current events, so I like my Public Administration class,” McDaniel said. “For Public Information Management, I had to submit an assignment on Edward Snowden and what would it take for me to be a whistleblower. I really love that class because it allows creative freedom with still having to apply background information provided by your text and not pulling anything from thin air.”
Living the Dream
The flexibility of the online format in the A-State MPA program allows McDaniel to work with the uncertain scheduling of auditions.
“My professors are very understanding,” she said. “More often than not, online students are non-traditional. I’m still technically not all that non-traditional, because I have a flexible schedule with auditions. They’re lenient with due dates.
“Everything is due at a certain time, but they pick times in the evening where someone who works an eight-to-five job could easily come home and do this assignment without rushing and turn in quality work. It’s not easy, by any means. It’s definitely challenging but in a good way. It’s been doable, for sure, with my schedule.”
McDaniel’s sister, Jordan Williams, earned a master’s degree in animal science from the University of Arkansas.
“I’m the black sheep of the family,” McDaniel said. “They’re all in agriculture, and I am over here in creative arts. That’s always funny to tell people. My family is so supportive because they see that I wanted to do something different. It was something that I had to do.”
If McDaniel has it her way, she’ll get to experience the Broadway stage before she helps introduce fine arts to kids in Arkansas.
“I want to work with a non-profit youth theater organization because those are the organizations that I really thrived in growing up and piqued my interest in theater and performance,” she said. “I realized I had the creative side to be qualified for that, but I didn’t have the business side of that.”
She also plans to take the stage in Arkansas once again after she completes the online MPA program.
“I thought, ‘You know, when I finish this, I might be so impressed with myself that I might have to drive to Jonesboro and go to graduation.’ It’s not out of the question. New York is over 1,300 miles, so we’ll figure it out.”
Learn more about the A-State online MPA Non-Profit Management Track program.