Beauty and brains!!! Scientist Kara McCullough wins Miss USA 2017 (photos)

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The District of Columbia has won back-to-back Miss USA titles.

Kara McCullough, a 25-year-old scientist working for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was crowned Sunday at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on the Las Vegas Strip. She will go on to compete on the Miss Universe contest.

“I’m extremely thankful for this opportunity,” she said after the event. “I just want to encourage so many women nationwide to find their passion in any subject possible and understand that nothing is difficult if you really, truly put the work in for it.”

Fifty-one women representing each state and the nation’s capital participated in the decades-old competition. The runner-up of the night was Miss New Jersey Chhavi Verg, a marketing and Spanish student at Rutgers University, while the second runner-up was Miss Minnesota Meridith Gould, who is studying apparel retail merchandising at the University of Minnesota.

McCullough was born in Naples, Italy, and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She said she wants to inspire children to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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