A Champion of Women

Hair, heels and happy smiles – from the outside looking in, the Miss USA competition dons the crown on the country’s most beautiful women. Yet, a new face to the contest this year changed the stereotypes, adding champion of women to this list of what it takes to win.

After taking on the title of Miss New Mexico USA in January 2018, Kristen Leyva used her new spotlight to lift up three of her pride points – female engineers, the New Mexico State University Aggies and her mother, Jo Leyva. Kristen Leyva, a 2016 College of Engineering graduate, now works as a mechanical engineer for Raytheon in Las Cruces, a company specializing in building defense solutions for the U.S. Department of Defense. 

In an industry seeking more female and racial diversity, Kristen Leyva understands the critical role she plays in inspiring others. But, her mother inspired her first. After graduating from NMSU in 1999, Jo Leyva worked as an engineer at NASA and mentored NMSU students.

“Being a first-generation college graduate, a single-mom and a female engineer, my mother defied odds and prospered far beyond them,” Kristen Leyva says. “It was during this time that I believe she became a true testament for what it means to not only be a strong, independent woman but also an inspiration for many.”

Just two months before Kristen Leyva’s graduation from NMSU, her mother passed away after a long battle with cancer. On that day, Kristen Leyva vowed to carry on her mother’s legacy to inspire others toward careers in engineering.

Two years later, she finally found her stage. As Miss New Mexico USA, Kristen Leyva represented her state in the national competition in May 2018. Though she didn’t win the ultimate crown, she did leave with countless memories and a new opportunity to use her story to encourage others. Kristen Leyva will continue visiting schools and speaking at events across the state, and this fall, she met the very first product of her efforts to perpetuate her mother’s work – a recipient of an NMSU scholarship she started in March 2018 in honor of Jo Leyva.

“As an alumna, it’s important to me to give back,” she says. “My mom was raising two girls on her own during her time at NMSU, and I was bouncing around from hospital to hospital with my mom during my time. None of us know what the person next to us is going through or how they’re making it to class each day. I hope that with this scholarship, students will never have to compromise or put their dreams on hold.”

Hair, heels, happy smiles and a champion of women – that’s Kristen Leyva, Miss New Mexico USA. 

Angel Mendez

Kristen Leyva started an NMSU scholarship in honor of her mother Jo Leyva (left) who inspired her and many others to overcome stereotypes and pursue engineering.

Kristen Leyva, Miss New Mexico USA 2018, on stage in fashion by Sherri Hill during the opening of The MISS USA® Competition at George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on Monday, May 21. The Miss USA contestants have spent the last few weeks touring, filming, rehearsing and preparing to compete for the Miss USA crown airing on FOX at 8:00 PM ET live on Monday, May 21, 2018 in Shreveport-Bossier, Louisiana. HO/The Miss Universe Organization