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Meet Rori Van Nortwick, EIT, Engineer and Pageant Queen

February 11, 2016
Rori Mrs Alaska

Meet Rori Van Nortwick, EIT, R&M’s resident pageant queen. Not only is Rori a Staff Engineer in R&M’s Surface Transportation Group, but she is this year’s Mrs. Alaska United States!

Congratulations on winning Mrs. Alaska! How does it feel to be royalty?

Amazing! It’s nice to know three years of preparation and hard work paid off.

How was this year different than previous pageants you’ve competed in?

I was better prepared mentally and in better shape physically than in previous years. I also love this particular pageant because the focus is on personal growth. I am continuously learning from the people around me.

Did you think you were going to win?

No, not at all. This was the hardest group of women I have competed with. I was standing up on stage with the top two contestants and thought “I’m going to get first runner up again!”

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You’ve been competing in pageants since 2010. How did you get involved?

I originally started for the scholarship money. When I was in high school, my sister-in-law suggested I compete for scholarship money. I didn’t do it then because once I saw that year’s winner, I was too scared. I didn’t think I had any chance of winning.

A few years later, when I was in college, I attended a pageant to support a friend that had been trying to convince me to compete. I was sitting there watching and I thought, “I can do this.” The top 10 competitors won a prize. They were only 12 ladies competing and I figured I could at least make it into the top 10. I won two years of tuition waivers for the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) without even winning a title. After that my competitive nature kicked in and I wanted to actually win a title, not just compete for scholarships.

What do you enjoy the most?

I like people’s shock when I tell them I do pageants. I’m not super girly on a daily basis, I wear glasses and like math. I like breaking the stereotype of pageant girls being shallow.

As part of the pageant you are required to support a cause throughout your reign as Mrs. Alaska. What cause do you support?

I support Alzheimer’s research and awareness. The specific non-profit I support is the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, which provides education and support for individuals and families affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

This is a life-long cause for me. I started advocating in 8th grade. I had the opportunity to present at the National Conference of State Legislators about the Medicaid Choice Waiver Program and how to make it more efficient and able to help more people, including those with Alzheimer’s and save more money in the long-run.

How did you get involved with that?

Both my grandmothers were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or related dementia so it’s very personal for me. My maternal grandmother moved in with my family when I was in high school. My entire family became her caregivers. She became my best friend. Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska was a great help to us during this time.

What are your goals for your year as Mrs. Alaska?

I’m going to focus on what I’m passionate about, like Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education (STEM) and raising awareness about Alzheimer ’s disease and funding for research. I recently volunteered at Robot Rendezvous Alaska, which is a competition for high school students to design, build and program robots using math and science concepts. I’m also participating in the Amblin’ for Alzheimer’s walk in May and have a fashion fundraiser at Apricot Lane on February 11. 20% of all sales from the event will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska. My plan is to make 50 appearances in support of events like these throughout the year.

Outside of being Mrs. Alaska 2016, you‘re a civil engineer. How did you get into engineering?

I kind of fell into engineering. Originally, I was going to school to be a high school math teacher. My older brother, who is also an engineer at R&M, suggested I try some of the entry level engineering classes at UAA. I fell in love and never looked back.

What type of projects do you work on?

I’ve worked on all kinds of projects. As an intern I worked in the field on construction projects, which included road and airport projects in rural Alaska. On the design-side I’ve worked on various transportation projects. I’m currently working on a project to improve drainage at the Alaska Railroad crossing on West Northern Lights. I’m helping with the Design Study Report and also helped with the drainage report. I also recently worked on the Peger Road Resurfacing and FMATS Pedestrian Improvements project in Fairbanks.

Do you have favorite project? And why is that your favorite?

The Allakaket Airport Improvements, which provided runway, taxiway and apron repairs at the Allakaket Airport in Alaska’s Northern Interior. I worked on this project while an intern and spent 30 days out in the community doing materials testing and inspection.

It was such an interesting area to be in. It’s a completely different experience and culture than Anchorage. I had never lived in a place without running water. I also got to see the why of a project and how it affected the people in that community. I was only there for short time, but everybody knew my name, even though I worked the night shift.

What do you like the most about engineering?

I enjoy the ability to see something from a piece of paper come to life. I’ve been lucky enough to experience both design and construction at R&M. It lends a hand to more experienced problem solving.

What do you see yourself doing in the future?

I would like to continue to work on road and highway projects. That was my focus in college and I’ve always seen myself doing that. My long-term goal is to be a Project Manager. Beyond that I would like to continuously move up and improve.

Rori will be competing for Mrs. United States this fall in Las Vegas. If you’d like to follow her journey as Mrs. Alaska United States 2016 on instagram, follow the username @mrsalaskaus2016.

Rori has been a part of the R&M team since 2009. She originally joined the firm as an Engineering Intern, working in R&M’s Construction Administration Department during the summers while attending UAA. She continued her internship through the 2010, 2011 and 2012 construction seasons, joining the firm full-time in May 2013 after graduation. Rori has participated in a wide range of projects at R&M, including materials sampling and testing, and airport and road design. She has also provided hydrologic and hydraulic services on a variety of transportation projects.

Rori has a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She was born and raised in Anchorage and is a graduate of South Anchorage High School. She spends her free time volunteering for various local pageants, including serving as the Participant Recruitment Director for Alaska Miss Amazing and Assistant Director for Alaska Junior High, High School and Collegiate Pageants.

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