In less than a year, SMU Cox alumna Katherine Colig, BBA ’21, BA ’21, MSA ’22, went from master’s student to the reigning Miss Texas Petite USA — all without prior pageant experience.

In December 2021, Colig was midway through the Cox School’s one-year Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) degree program, after completing a double major at SMU in psychology and business the year before. She was also nursing an unexpected, abrupt end to a three-year relationship and didn’t want to dwell on the difficult time she’d been battling. Colig decided it was time for a new challenge: pageants. At the time, her only connection to the pageant world was through a fellow SMU Cox student named Ashley Surber, who’d previously competed in the Miss Dallas pageant. Intrigued by the personal growth Surber said she’d undergone throughout her own pageant experience, Colig was inspired to action. By February 2022, she’d submitted her application for the highly competitive Miss Dallas pageant.

For Colig, who went to high school in Flower Mound, pursuing pageants, something she’d never considered, was about growth and personal development. “It really just kind of came down to me wanting to become the best version of myself, especially with finishing school and starting this new chapter in my life,” she says. “Maybe a decade ago, it really was a lot about your looks, but it’s so much more than that now. I wish that was something people could see. It’s really more about your personality, what impact you want to make on your community, and your credentials, your experience.”

Throughout a three-week span in October 2022, Colig transformed from a pageant novice competing in Miss Dallas to the reigning titleholder of Miss Texas Petite USA.

Preparation Makes Perfect

Some participants spend a lifetime — and a hefty amount of money — training and preparing for pageant competitions. Colig, who entered this competitive realm with no experience, had about eight months.

“My knowledge of pageants at the time was [the TV show] ‘Toddlers and Tiaras,’” she admits. Colig tapped into some of the strategies she’d learned in her MSA program to prepare. Step one? Networking. “With a pageant of this caliber, I started reaching out to people I kind of knew who had competed.” Colig gained an action plan that included investing in professional headshots and connecting with a pageant coaching services company that helped her perfect everything from her walk to her wardrobe.

While carefully balancing her time between a summer internship with Tolleson Wealth Management in Highland Park and preparing for the Miss Dallas pageant, she came across information about a second pageant, the Miss Texas Petite USA pageant, geared toward women who are 5’6 or shorter. Colig, who is 5’1, was enthralled by this lesser-known pageant system and decided to apply for that pageant, too, despite its close scheduling proximity to Miss Dallas.

A Winning Touch

Colig won the Miss Texas Petite USA title on Oct. 29 in San Antonio, three weeks after the Miss Dallas pageant, her first-ever pageant. Although she’d prepared for the competition, winning the title was a welcomed surprise. Colig and her competitors were evaluated by a panel of four judges in four categories (personal interview, swimsuit, evening gown and on-stage question). The “intensity” of competing in Miss Dallas helped prepare her for Miss Texas Petite, Colig says. “I was competing with girls that have competed for a long time, and it was a state title,” she says. “So, especially with the time I had at Miss Dallas, I wasn’t setting any kind of expectation for myself.”

Colig credits her time at SMU Cox with helping her succeed in the pageant world. She leveraged interviewing skills she’d learned through SMU Cox as an advantage. Interviews are a critical part of any pageant. In fact, for Miss Texas Petite, the personal interview accounts for 35% of a contestant’s overall score. Luckily for Colig, she’d had years of practice as an SMU Cox graduate student.

“For someone who has never done a pageant, I felt like I had way too much confidence about pageant interviews,” she says. “But I really do attribute that to how SMU prepares their Cox majors to go out in the real world and knock out interviews left and right.”

A Lasting Impression

Greg Sommers, director of the SMU Cox Master of Science in Accounting Program, touts the program’s holistic focus on characteristics such as critical thinking and communication that equip students to succeed at Cox and beyond.

“All of those kinds of things that have allowed Colig to succeed in school will allow her to succeed in accounting,” Sommers says, “but they also have had the spillover effect of preparing her to enter this very, very different thing of competing in pageants.”

Sommers acknowledges that, while the program is “very stretching” for some, students have taken on various pursuits, such as training for marathons, while enrolled. But Colig’s path was an ambitious diversion from what he usually sees.

Sommers admits he was “a little bit surprised” when Colig shared that she’d be competing. While he knew Colig was capable of success, the student he’d come to know was a bit more reserved. “But I was glad to see her pursuing it,” Sommers says. “I’m glad to see what has become of it and what she’s gained out of it.”

Sommers says this experience was an excellent opportunity for Colig to grow her confidence, poise and professionalism — all advantageous characteristics that will help Colig in her professional pursuits as an accountant.

“I know those are things that a lot of times people don’t expect to be a big part of accounting,” Sommers admits. “But your communication skills and your ability to be able to present and communicate play a critical central role in this profession.”

Sommers is proud of the personal growth he’s seen in Colig, who went from a reserved student to a title-winning pageant participant. “Now, she’s shown herself that she can go outside of what may have been comfortable and yet succeed in that as she applies herself. I really am looking forward to watching how this unfolds for her as she goes to Nationals.”

Beyond the Pageant Stage

Pageants have given Colig renewed confidence that spans her personal and professional pursuits. Throughout high school and into her first two years at SMU, Colig “struggled tremendously” with depression and body image.

“Walking on the stage for the first time at Miss Dallas felt like a full-circle moment,” says Colig, who thought about her 13-year-old self and the personal growth she’d experienced. “Personally, the pageants and my Miss Texas Petite reign are [symbolic] of the mental health struggles I once thought I could never overcome but did. This hope is something I want to help children and teens find no matter how difficult it can be. Pageants will always be a reminder of this goal.”

Colig has embraced that same confidence in her career, too. “Confidence is crucial in the business world, especially when you’re just starting in your career,” she says. “With the investment pageants had me put into my physical and mental well-being, I can bring my absolute best and healthiest self into work every day.”

Colig plans to continue competing in pageants, which have become a hobby for her. “It gives me an outlet from work and CPA studying to prioritize my physical and mental health,” she says.

What’s Next

Colig is using her time as reigning titleholder to bring attention to The Magdalen House, a Dallas-based nonprofit that helps women achieve and maintain sobriety. This is a cause close to Colig’s heart, as her mother went through the program when Colig was a child. Every Wednesday, Colig helps care for children, so their mothers can attend meetings at the house.

Looking ahead, Colig hopes to use her education to open a psychology practice focused on helping children who are struggling with mental illness or navigating households where substance abuse is present.

Colig views her education as the practical component of making her long-term goal a reality, as accounting is the core of any successful business.  

“My BBA in Accounting and MSA provided me with a strong foundation in accounting to then gain real-world experience in the accounting field as an auditor while also pursuing a CPA license,” Colig says. “There’s a degree of professional freedom with being a CPA, and I believe there would be additional perceived value to my services, even if my line of work is in an entirely different field. SMU strives [to help] students become world changers, and my SMU Cox education is a huge step in being just that.” 

Currently, Colig is studying for the Uniform CPA Examination, while working as an audit associate for BDO USA. She will represent Texas and compete for the national title of Miss Petite USA in August in Milwaukee.