Chicago, IL – It had been a bad day for Aisan Raisdana.The 21 year-old had arrived home fresh from a particularly stressful day as a first-year medical student when she realized she wanted to do something she rarely ever did: watch TV.
As fortune would have it, the Miss America 2010 Competition was on, and Aisan watched closely as some of the nation’s most beautiful and talented women took the stage.
Despite having participated in a competition only once before – in high school for Illinois Junior Miss, where she was first runner-up – Aisan decided to don the dressand high heels once again. That same night, she signed up for the Miss Chicago competition, and spent the next three weeks preparing – starting from the basics.
Outshining almost all of her competitors, Aisan made it to the final round and was crowned second runner-up. She was a bit disappointed, but some words of encouragement from the local and state directors led her to sign up for another competition in Quincy, Illinois, where last weekend she achieved her goal, being crowned Miss Gem City!
“I am proud to be a part of the Miss America organization, the number one donor of scholarship money for American women, and I am so deeply grateful for the amazing directors and volunteers who run the programs,” she recently told NIAC.
What inspired Aisan to sign up was not the regality and glory of the competitions, however, but the platform they provide for these young women to speak on critical issues close to their hearts. Aisan’s passion for the Iranian-American community, and cost effective and accessible health care is what drives her through the tough times in medical school.
Born in Tehran, Aisan moved to the US at the age of 4 -via Sweden – and settled with her parents and older sister in Philadelphia. At age 6, the family moved to a Chicago suburb, where they have lived ever since.
During her childhood, the Raisdana family was heavily involved in the local Iranian-American community. “The importance of the community, maintaining relationships, networking and constantly working towards a more solid, tight-knit community cannot be understated,” Aisan said.
After graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Illinois, Chicago (in an astounding 2.5 years, to boot), Aisan temporarily re-located to Washington, DC, where her passion for the community culminated in a 4-month internship with NIAC.
“I wanted to get involved in the community, become acquainted with the legislative process and foreign policy issues,” she said. “I saw how the whole process affected American lives; by attending think tank conferences, speeches and Congressional hearings, I was interacting with and seeing those who are making the big decisions.”
At the end of her internship, Aisan backpacked through Europe by herself, taking the time to reflect on the past and contemplate the future. Upon her return, she interned with Rep. Danny Davis’ (D-IL) office, working predominantly on health care. She has since become a strong proponent of community health centers.
“Medicine has a lot to learn from other industries and countries. In order to improve the overall system of health care we should look at other successful examples, and create a system that works in the American context that is unique and fitting to our needs,” she said. “It’s not just one aspect that needs to be addressed but the overall system.”
In both the competitions Aisan has participated in so far, the judges have taken a keen interest in her Iranian-American heritage, as well as her work at NIAC. “Iranian Americans are ambassadors between two great cultures,” she told NIAC. “I strongly believe our responsibility is to educate people on who we are, our values, and our importance to society – exposure and communication are critical.”
While Aisan plans on practicing medicine – she says that her life-long goal is to bethe first Iranian-American Surgeon General – her work towards a stronger community will continue. Competitions are a great opportunity to educate her peers, judges, and others about the Iranian-American community, she said – and winning them just makes it that much better.
On June 20th, she will be competing against roughly 24 local title-holders in the Miss Illinois competition, the winner of which will move onto the Miss America 2011 Competition. While most of the girls have been doing this for years and have coaches, trainers, wardrobes, etc., Aisan is just now learning the ins and outs of the pageant culture, and – most importantly – her own image.