Emma Cameron riding a horse during the Miss Rodeo America competition

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By Beth Saulnier

Emma Cameron ’22, BS ’21, isn’t the first major pageant winner to graduate from Cornell; in recent memory, at least three alumnae have represented their home states in the Miss America competition. But she may, in fact, be the only one to wear her crown over a cowboy hat.

In December 2023, the former CALS agricultural sciences major fulfilled a lifelong dream by winning the title of Miss Rodeo America.

She’ll be spending 2024 representing the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, logging some 50,000 miles as she travels to a variety of events and appearances around the country—including performing at nearly 100 rodeos.

“It’s a big whirlwind,” she says. “One day you’re just ‘Emma,’ and all of a sudden, you’re ‘Miss Rodeo America, whose name is Emma.’ That’s been an interesting transition.”

Emma Cameron being crowed Miss Rodeo America
The crowning moment. (Sherry Smith Photography)

It’s mid-January, and Cameron is chatting with Cornellians from Denver, one of the first stops of her reign.

There, her schedule included opening the National Western Stock Show; attending a Nuggets game; touring the state capitol; admiring equine officers in the city’s mounted police; meeting Temple Grandin, the renowned animal behavior researcher and autism advocate; and petting a sloth at the zoo.

Emma Cameron meeting a police horse
Charming a four-legged member of Denver’s mounted police force early in her reign. (Provided)

(Fans can follow her travels on her official Instagram and on Facebook.)

“I think what stands out is her positivity,” says Antonio DiTommaso, a professor of weed science who was Cameron’s advisor on the Hill. “She’s an eloquent speaker with a very warm personality. She’s always so happy and bubbly, and she has an amazing smile. She could have a positive attitude about almost anything—including our winter weather, which was tough for her.”

Speaking of which: Cameron grew up in New Mexico, and the transition to (often chilly, and even more often gloomy) Upstate New York took some adjustment.

“One of my speeches at the Miss Rodeo America competition was talking about how shocked I was when I moved to Ithaca, because where I grew up, in the high desert, there are 300 days of sunshine,” Cameron says.

“It rained my entire first week at Cornell—so much that my boot-cut jeans soaked up water to my knees. My first Thanksgiving, my flight home got canceled because there was two feet of snow.”

On a horse practically from the time she could walk, Cameron helped out on a nearby ranch and competed in junior rodeo—her main event was barrel racing, in which riders vie for the fastest time around a course demarcated by oil drums—and was crowned Miss National High School Rodeo in 2017.

On the Hill, she was a member of the equestrian team and completed her degree in three years—with an eye, she says, toward gaining the Miss Rodeo America title before she hit its age limit (then 25, though since raised to 27).

Emma Cameron holding a basketball at a Denver Nuggets game
In the Denver Nuggets arena. (Provided)

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After graduation, Cameron worked in commodities in Kansas City before deciding to leave her job to prepare for the pageant circuit.

She won Miss Rodeo New Mexico on her first try, advancing to represent the state at the national competition in Las Vegas.

As Cameron explains: rodeo pageants resemble conventional ones, like Miss America, in a number of ways.

Emma Cameron modeling a copper-colored metallic dress
On the Miss Rodeo runway. (Sherry Smith Photography)

For example, contestants have to demonstrate poise and stage presence, excel in interviews, perform in group numbers, and model stylish outfits. (Hers included a striking copper-colored metallic dress—which she helped design—for the competition’s “Western trendy” fashion show.)

“The big difference for us is that instead of singing or dancing, our talent is horsemanship,” she says. “We have a whole day dedicated to evaluating how well we can ride a horse, and we have interviews and a written test on equine science, veterinary knowledge, and the overall industry, to make sure we can represent it well.”

At the Miss Rodeo America competition—which has been held since 1956—Cameron beat out 30 other young women for the crown and won several awards, including the one for horsemanship.

Her prizes include scholarships as well as a large wardrobe of Western-style clothing, jewelry, and accessories, which she sports at her many appearances.

The highlight, of course, is the elegant Miss Rodeo America crown.

No ordinary tiara, it's specially designed to slip onto the variously colored cowboy hats that coordinate with her outfits.

“I am essentially the face of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association for the next year,” Cameron says. “It’s a huge honor, and something I take very seriously.”

And once her reign ends? Cameron eventually plans to attend law school—and earn a doctorate in genetics and immunology.

Emma Cameron in her Miss Rodeo America attire, with sash, crown, and trophy saddle
The title includes a trophy saddle. (Art of Aperture)

Top: Cameron competing in the Miss Rodeo America horsemanship event. (Sherry Smith Photography)

Published February 28, 2024


  1. Burns

    Love this story about our New Mexico girl and Miss Rodeo America. You hit it right with th description you gave.
    She is very motivated and I have no doubts she will accomplish the goals she has set for herself after completing her journey as Miss Rodeo America. She is an amazing young woman and a perfect ambassador for Agriculture and the world of Rodeo 😀❤️🌹🌹

  2. Heber Vellon, Class of 1983

    Nice job, “Cornellians”! Such a different and cool story. Cornell students have amazing and varied talents. They never cease to amaze me. Congratulations, Emma!

  3. Lesslie Giacobbi, Class of 1962

    Cameron is really quite incredible. As Miss Rodeo America she exhibits grit, determination, a high level of numerous skills including how to ride, guide and control a horse, speak to all kinds of people from the children to rodeo hands, riders, teachers, educators and the people running the shows. She has to be extremely well balanced and organized, and be at home with herself and others.

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