Atascadero resident Natasha Meyers-Cherry isn’t your typical beauty pageant queen.
Meyers-Cherry, who will represent San Luis Obispo County in this month’s Miss California USA pageant, is pursuing her master’s degree in marine biology at Cal Poly.
“Working in the field is the most rewarding part (of my job),” the 23-year-old said. “I love spending time outdoors, in nature.”
Meyers-Cherry grew up on an Atascadero farm, where she participated in 4H and raised chickens, rabbits and dairy goats.
While attending Atascadero High School, she played volleyball, served as president of the school’s Earth Club and participated in a weeklong mock government exercise organized by the American Legion Auxiliary’s California Girls State program.
In 2010, she graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. She also spent two years as a research technician intern with the school’s PISCO Intertidal Laboratory.
Meyers-Cherry credits her surfer stepfather — Brad Cherry, director of Atascadero’s Community Services Department — with instilling in her and her younger siblings a love of the great outdoors.
“Since I was really little, he’s always ingrained in us the idea of environmental protection and preserving the ocean for future generations,” she said.
Her work as a marine biologist has taken her to Alaska, where she investigated the migration of salmon smelt, and South Africa, where she studied great white sharks up close.
“From the boat, you can see how beautiful and powerful they are, but underwater it’s a whole different experience,” said Meyers-Cherry, who voluntarily climbed into a submersible cage to examine the massive animals. “Sharks are often looked at as being dangerous, but they are also extremely important to the ecosystem.”
Now Meyers-Cherry is preparing to tackle a new challenge: her first beauty pageant.
“I’m getting very nervous,” acknowledged Meyers-Cherry, who worked as a model while studying at UC Santa Cruz. “When I was at school it was a great distraction, but as soon as I got out (for winter break) I realized I’ve got a month to prepare.”
Meyers-Cherry will compete against 275 other women ages 18 to 26 at the Miss California USA Pageant, held Friday through Sunday in Palm Desert.
She’s not the only contestant with ties to the Central Coast.
Former Shell Beach resident Vanessa Paulson, who now lives in Ventura, is competing as Miss Pismo Beach. Meanwhile, Shandon High School graduate and current Los Angeles resident Carly Twisselman will appear as Miss Central California.
(Pageant contestants can choose to represent any city or region in California as long as that area lacks a preliminary competition where women can win the title of “Miss.”)
Miss California USA contestants are judged in three areas — interview, swimsuit and evening gown — for their character, confidence, poise and personality, among other factors.
The winner will go on to compete in the national Miss USA competition in June. Both pageants, as well as the Miss Universe competition, are run by the Miss Universe Organization owned by NBC Universal and Donald Trump.
If chosen as Miss California USA, Meyers-Cherry said she wants to be a role model for young women.
“I would really like to raise awareness for young women to be interested in the sciences,” she said.