Where Dreams Take Flight

From left to right: Dr. Khadijah Ismael, Jatasha Sharif, Khalilah Ismael, and Tiffani Harris

By Lee Shenkman

On April 13, 2019, a number of girls and young women will gather at Central High School in Newark to compete for the title of Miss Glitz, Glamour, and Brains in STEM USA. There, they will compete against one another not only on the basis of the beauty of the mind and presentation skills, but also on their abilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The winners in each of the divisions will be those who combine their skills and abilities to excel in all areas.

The road to Central High School in Newark, as it turns out, was long and difficult. And it came about only because of the vision and determination of two sisters who believed passionately in one core principle: We all have the ability to do extraordinary things and be extraordinary people. Often, all we need is a belief in ourselves coupled with a firm conviction that we can do almost anything if we work hard enough. And, sometimes, we need support and encouragement from others.

Pageant participants meeting their science coach at the meet-and-greet session

Dr. Khadijah and Khalilah Ismael are sisters who have achieved extraordinary things. Dr. Khadijah Ismael graduated from Rutgers College and Rutgers Dental School in Newark, NJ, and is now a practicing dentist in Newark. Khalilah Ismael, MSN, RN, WHNP-BC, is an Advanced Practice Nurse. Yet, in addition to being medical professionals, they believe that having medical careers should involve more than promoting health. They use their chosen professions as a platform to give back to the community by inculcating in young people the love of STEM, as well as of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, and Nursing. They equip students with leadership skills and encourage them to become our future healthcare professionals, scholars, inventors, and leaders.

In the summer of 2017, they entered the Miss Muslimah USA Pageant. Khadijah and Khalilah, representing New Jersey, were determined to show that being devout Muslims and adhering to strict religious principles were not incompatible with being fully realized members of modern society. And they did. Khadijah was crowned Miss Muslimah USA 2017, and Khalilah was awarded the title of Miss Muslimah New Jersey and also crowned Miss Popularity.


Khalilah assisting Ahijja as Jessica of Savannah Banana in fitting her custom-made blinged-out doctor's jacket for the opening act.

But being ground-breakers in the field of beauty and creating positive images for women of faith is only one aspect of the Ismael sisters. They believe they can also help young women and girls break down barriers and overcome obstacles to academic and intellectual achievement.

Aspire to Inspire

To that end, they founded Miss Hijaabi USA, designed to promote scholarship, leadership, activism, and excellence for all women throughout all facets of life.

They have also established Women of Wellness of New Jersey, a non-profit organization located at NAN Tech World at 400 Hawthorne Avenue in Newark. Here, founders and board members Jatasha Sharif, Tiffani Harris, Khalilah Ismael, and Dr. Khadijah Ismael enable girls and young women to participate in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) program. The students attend afterschool and weekend classes focusing on:

  • Introduction to the World of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, and Nursing
  • Coding (Digital Gaming)
  • Cyber Security
  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Business in STEM
  • Empowerment, Interviewing Skills, Public Speaking, Resume Building
  • The “E” in STEM

In addition, working in partnership with professionals in the arts, Women of Wellness offers industry-specific workshops. Recently, designers from Ralph Lauren hosted a workshop where they highlighted the role of STEM in the fashion industry. The girls learned how chemistry is used in fabricating materials such as leather, as well as how antimicrobial materials were invented and used to rock the sports and swimwear industry. Seeing these practical and inventive uses of technology, the girls were excited to realize that they could use their love of science to become fashion designers.

The Ismael sisters also hosted a Mother and Daughter Brunch. The primary goal was to learn how to foster healthy relationships. Participants learned that a healthy mother/caregiver’s relationship is the foundation of every other relationship in life.


Pageant participants and their families at the meet-and-greet session.

In January, the sisters invited the pageant participants and their families out to STEM + Basketball = STEM Dunk, where the students explored velocity and “hang time.” The event was cosponsored by the City of Newark, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, an affiliate of RWJ Barnabas Health, and the New Jersey Office of Faith Based Initiatives.

Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

The upcoming Miss Glitz, Glamour and Brains USA in STEM Pageant on April 13 is the next logical step in Khadijah and Khalilah’s vision to demonstrate to the participating girls, to their parents, and to the world what the girls and young women in STEM programs can accomplish.

The pageant participants will compete in a number of different areas. To prepare for the event, they have completed sessions in empowerment, resume building, self-confidence, public speaking, coding, CSI, and etiquette training. The winners will have to demonstrate not only their appearance and poise but also their minds.

For girls, beauty has always been held out as the ultimate achievement. Thanks to Dr. Khadijah Ismael and Khalilah Ismael, it is being paired with scientific, technological, and mathematics accomplishments. The girls who are gaining in knowledge and confidence will be the ultimate winners. And so will the world.

For information & tickets, visit www.wowofnj.org or email [email protected]

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