Phillips talks about life after being America’s Junior Miss
A lot has happened in the years since Taylor Phillips was chosen as America’s Junior Miss in 2006. Now a fifth-year doctoral student at Stanford University, the Woodford County High School graduate will earn her Ph.D. in June. On July 1, Phillips will move to Manhattan to begin her career as an assistant professor of management and organizations at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “The transition to being a full-fledged faculty member, that’s really the exciting part of this time,” said Phillips. “I’ve been working on research (and) publishing papers, but having your lab, your own research budget, your own resources to ask the questions and investigate the questions that you really want to investigate – that will be really great.” As a social psychologist, Phillips said her research has focused on organizational behavior – typically a social science field in business schools that looks at how people interact in groups and teams, and how organizational policies affect people. “So it’s really looking at humans in social interactions,” said Phillips, 27. “…What I specifically look at is the idea of privilege.” Asked if it feels like a decade since she was America’s Junior Miss, Phillips said, “It feels like one life-change ago rather than 10 years ago.” Looking back on that life-changing experience, Phillips said her initial reaction was strongest after winning the state program because that’s when she realized being a student at Stanford University was within reach. The cash scholarships she was awarded for being Kentucky’s Junior Miss turned her dream into reality. In the years since earning the scholarship dollars that would allow her to attend Stanford, Phillips has come to think of herself as one of the lucky ones. She knows many other “incredibly hardworking, incredibly amazing kids” cannot continue their educations at a prestigious university like Stanford because they don’t have the financial means to pursue their dreams, which she described as “unfair.” Over time, with the understanding she’s gained through her studies, Phillips has come to appreciate why the Junior Miss (now Distinguished Young Women) program strives to teach participants what it means to “Be Your Best Self.” “It’s not just about being your best self, but really knowing what yourself or who yourself is … Why you want to be that person and how you can achieve that,” she explained. Phillips said several of her teachers in Woodford County schools – including Kyle Fannin (social studies at Woodford County High School) and Steve Campbell (fifth grade at Southside Elementary) – nurtured her interest in human behavior because they were always interested in hearing their students’ thoughts about what was happening in the world. She said her successes in life and academics – and the achievements of other Woodford County youth – are a result of many other experiences too. “People in our community also played a big role in developing young people in our town … to be successful, healthy adults,” said Phillips. She cited her dance teacher at Jane’s School of Dance, Jane Schenck, and Miss Jane’s daughters as important influences in the self-development of their students. Not surprisingly, it makes Megan (Schenck) Dragoo proud knowing one of her mom’s former students started an undergraduate tap dance class at Stanford University during her freshman year. “She has that outlet of the arts in her very busy and research-filled life,” she said. “I still go jam or go hoofing as we say,” explained Phillips. And although she no longer performs, tap remains her favorite style of dance because it combines “the physical artistic element with the musical component,” she said. Dance fostered fundamental life skills, which Phillips said helped her accomplish goals by staying focused and not giving up. “And those are skills that help you do better in any endeavor,” she added. “…It’s not so much the time spent (on dance) was taking away from other things, but it was time spent developing skills that add to everything.” She said many other activities, including sports, are also outlets for nurturing valuable life skills in young people. Phillips said her parents, LeAnn and John Phillips, recently moved to Tennessee, but her grandmother, Bonnie Sininger, still lives in Versailles, so she typically spends a weekend here with family during the holidays. While living in the Bay area certainly has its pluses, Phillips said she misses Woodford County’s wide-open spaces and small-town way of life.