While traditional pageants focus on looks, Little Miss Elite celebrates something deeper. Created in 2015 through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Columbia and Enhanced Leaders Inspiring Through Excellence, or ELITE, a University of Missouri student organization, this pageant is aimed at building self-esteem, recognizing inner beauty and congratulating young girls for their academic achievements. During the showcase, participants are not allowed to wear any makeup. Instead, they are scored on creativity, growth and community involvement.

Aleena Simmons smiles as she is announced the third annual Little Miss Elite.

Aleena Simmons smiles as she is announced the third annual Little Miss Elite in 2017. Photo by Mikala Compton

Student leaders from Mizzou involved in setting up this year's pageant include:

  • Brielle Holt and Swayne Tiffani Roland, health science majors in the School of Health Professions
  • Miah Majors, a nursing major in the Sinclair School of Nursing

ELITE CEO and founder Valencia Sewell, a 2016 Mizzou grad, launched ELITE during her sophomore year as a way to connect and bond with like-minded women on campus. Currently there are more than 30 student leaders involved in ELITE and numerous alumni supporters.

Little Miss Elites is more than just a single event. Leading up to the pageant, every participant is paired with a college-aged female member as their mentor. The MU student organization is comprised of two main membership groups: the collegiate division, and the Chicago alumni and professional division. In addition to the two main divisions, the group also has a lengthy volunteer database that allows those who aren’t members to participate in certain service projects.

From sleepovers to last-minute wardrobe changes, mentors are 100 percent involved throughout. Each week, mentors work with the participants on a new objective that includes a wide array of topics such as inner beauty, poise and healthy living. The lessons are designed to prepare them for not only the pageant showcase, but also for the real world once the program has ended.

This is a poster for The Little Miss Elite Academic Pageant on April 29, 2018 3 p.m. in Columbia, Mo.

This year will be the fourth-annual Little Miss Elite Academic Pageant, and it’s approaching fast. On Sunday, April 29, young girls from all over the community between the ages of 7 and 12 will gather in the Kimball Ballroom at Stephens College to compete for college scholarships. Every participant will take home a crown. It’s a way of enforcing one of the pageant’s few rules—everyone is a winner. For more information on the pageant, please visit the ELITE website.