The Miss UAFS Scholarship Pageant has set a Jan. 30 application deadline for the 2014 pageant, offering University of Arkansas - Fort Smith students an opportunity to take part in the same eye-opening experience as Cristina Castorena.

Castorena of Fort Smith, who has participated in the pageant for the last two years, didn’t realize how wrong her perception of pageants was until she became a contestant. What she had originally thought was "just a show" turned out to be a challenging and rewarding competition that found her interacting with some of the most intelligent people she’s ever met.

"My preconception of a beauty pageant was that it was just women going on stage and altering themselves to something society wanted them to be," she said. "But I quickly realized I was very wrong. It was nothing like I thought it would be. It’s hard work, and it’s fun and exciting, but it’s definitely different than what I expected."

What surprised Castorena was the versatility of the contestants, who strove to "constantly improve themselves both physically and mentally." "These women are dedicated to their philanthropies and give everything they have on that stage," Castorena said. "To them, it’s more than just a crown. It’s a realization that success is when preparation meets opportunity."

Castorena was also surprised by the amount of work required to be a contestant in the pageant. From researching interview questions to picking out a dress to wear, the competition required months of preparation. But for Castorena, the reward made it all worth it. "It took a good two months to prepare," she said. "You have to put so much effort into it, but the reward, even if you don’t win, is still great."

Sherry Card of Fort Smith, director of campus and community events, agreed.

"I tell them all that it’s a life experience," she said. "I honestly believe that they become more confident well-rounded young women for having been a part of the Miss UAFS experience."

Card said that the contestants gain valuable skills in the pageant, while also forming bonds with fellow contestants. "They get to work on their interview skills, hone their talents, and make new friends, oftentimes forming lifelong friendships," she said. "Of course, the best part is the cash and scholarship awards."

Thanks to the work of Stacey Jones, the associate vice chancellor of campus and community events and the originator of the Miss UAFS Scholarship Pageant, the pageant awarded over $22,000 in cash and scholarship awards last year.

While Castorena planned to only take part in the 2012 pageant, she enjoyed it so much that she participated in the 2013 pageant and plans to compete again in 2014.

"I did this because it’s on my bucket list, so I didn’t think I would do it twice, let alone participate in it for a third time," she said. "Stephanie London, my big sister assigned for Miss UAFS, has been through this endeavor with me since day one. We decided it would be a great adventure to go through it one last time."

In addition to the pageant, the Princess Program has also set an application deadline of Jan. 30. Girls ages 5-10 can participate in the program, which costs $100 per child. Girls receive a tiara, tickets to a tea party, a T-shirt, goodie bag, two tickets to the Miss UAFS Scholarship Pageant and a group photo with Miss UAFS and Miss Arkansas.

Miss UAFS application forms are available at For more information, contact Card by telephone at 479-788-7301 or by email at Registration forms for the Princess Program are available by contacting Angela Lamon at 479-788-7788.

Tickets for the Miss UAFS Scholarship Pageant, which will be held on March 1 at 7 p.m., are $10 and available online at or at the UAFS Box Office located in the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center.