Alumnus Kurmel wins national Czech-Slovak heritage pageant

Alumnus Kurmel wins national Czech-Slovak heritage pageant

Calendar Icon Sep 08, 2015      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed RSS

Meagan Kurmel, an architectural engineering alumnus, was recently crowned Miss Czech-Slovak U.S. at the Wilber Czech Festival.
Meagan Kurmel, an architectural engineering alumnus, was recently crowned Miss Czech-Slovak U.S. at the Wilber Czech Festival.
Meagan Kurmel admits her family had an influence in her decision to pursue architectural engineering as a career.

But only a few months after graduating from UNL with a master’s degree in architectural engineering, Kurmel will combine two of her passions – engineering and family heritage – as she begins her professional life.

The daughter of an Army Corps of Engineers architect, Kurmel began work at Specialized Engineering Solutions in Omaha. Now, however, she is planning for a year of traveling the country and working after she was crowned Miss Czech-Slovak U.S. on Aug. 1 at the Wilber Czech Festival.

“I jumped right into the real world after graduation, but I still had this dream,” Kurmel said. “My superiors at SES understand that this was important to me and they’ve been extremely flexible. They understand that I may or may not be in the office, but I’ll still be working. It’s been a great blessing.”

Balancing her schedule became part of Kurmel’s world as she was part of another Czech celebration in California the weekend after winning her crown. There will also be trips all across the U.S. and another to Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

“I’m going to get to wave and smile in a whole bunch of parades, but I’ll also have the honor of meeting diplomats, inspiring younger people to share and celebrate their heritage, and go to consulates and embassies,” Kurmel said. “I’m planning to spread the Czech and Slovak word and languages to everyone. I want to make it the best, most rewarding year I can make it.”

Expressing a passion for her Czech heritage is something personal for Kurmel.

Her great-grandmother emigrated from Czechoslovakia to the United States in 1923 to escape a burgeoning Communist regime that was bent on suppressing many elements of the Czech culture, such as language and religion. Those who settled in Nebraska, particularly, found a place where they could carry on traditions that are part of local cultures to this day, Kurmel said.

Preparing for the state level and nation level competitions, Kurmel also discovered a connection between her heritage and her chosen career field.

“I’ve discovered that Czechs and Slovaks have been prominent in science and engineering,” Kurmel said. “They’ve pioneered medical research, created drugs and treatments for diseases like AIDS and HIV. They even invented things like soft contact lenses and sugar cubes.”

The Czech-Slovak pageant contestants are judged on answers to interview questions both on stage and off, a talent competitions – Kurmel did a self-choreographed “ballet polka” dance – and on what Kurmel called “Czech-Slovak evening wear,” known as kroj.

Kroj is a traditional Czech-Slovak dress usually featuring a knee- to calf-length skirt, an ornate vest and a white blouse with frills at the neckline and poofy sleeves. All contestants must have one and are judged in either the Americanized or Authentic category. An Americanized kroj is one that the contestant can design and wear in ways that usually have important meaning to them personally. Kurmel chose to compete in and won in the authentic kroj category, wearing kroj that belonged to her grandmother.

After the interviews, Kurmel wasn't certain of how well she was doing. In the end, Kurmel said, her dance and the kroj, especially, were probably key factors in her victory.

“I did well in the private interview, but on stage, I had some ups and downs with my answers,” Kurmel said. “But my kroj, you could say it’s the most accurate representation of a historical kroj from where my family came from. In the end that was huge.”

After being crowned Miss Czech-Slovak U.S. in downtown Wilber, Kurmel and support team – family, friends and her fiance Matthew Gibbs, also a UNL engineering graduate – walked a block and a half to the Sokol Hall for a celebration.

“When we walked in, the whole hall started cheering and screaming. It felt almost as loud at Memorial Stadium,” Kurmel said. “My mom and dad danced and so did Matt, my grandmother, my aunts and uncles. It was a fun time. And like most of Czech life, it showed how important family is.”

As Kurmel looks ahead to a busy year, she can’t help but reflect on how her family has influenced the path that led her to this point.

“They have been my rocks, and they are the reason I am doing what I’m doing,” Kurmel said. “My dad being an architect, that’s one reason I chose engineering. I wanted the math and science part of it, just like my dad, but I like the people part of engineering more than the science part. Engineering is about making the world better, making people healthier and happier.”

To help with the costs of traveling the world as Miss Czech-Slovak U.S., Kurmel has set up a web site to help raise money. If you are interested in contributing, go to