Miss Asia USA 2023 Ariana Pineda finds footing on stage and campus


Photo courtesy of Ariana Pineda

McCormick sophomore Ariana Pineda transferred to Northwestern in fall 2022. She attended Rice University during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Lexi Goldstein, Assistant Campus Editor

High heels and glamor aren’t for everyone, but the shoe fits McCormick sophomore Ariana Pineda, winner of Miss Asia USA 2023 in the eponymous pageant in November.

Pineda, a Pasadena, California native, joined Miss Asia USA in the summer of 2022. She flew to Los Angeles from Evanston almost every week starting Fall Quarter for gown fittings, training and rehearsals.

As a transfer from Rice University, Pineda said she juggled adjusting to Northwestern and competing simultaneously.

“This Miss Asia competition, it was like my one and only shot to participate in something so grand and so something that’s not within what I thought was possible for me,” Pineda said. 

The Miss Asia USA pageant emphasizes both beauty and brains, which resonated with Pineda, who is a self-taught coder. She created a gout diet management app, Purity, in 2020.

Pineda said she was inspired to create the app after a conversation with her father, who struggles with gout, a form of arthritis. Purity is the number one rated app for gout, according to the app’s description.

The biomedical engineering major has advocated for women in STEM since high school when she helped found the “makeathon” conference EntrepreneuHER. The virtual event, where participants workshopped a pitch STEM initiatives to judges and investors, attracted hundreds of participants globally, according to Pineda.

“I wanted to imbue that same passion for creation in more girls because I truly think that our generation is going to be the leaders of the world, the shakers of the world and the changemakers of the world,” Pineda said.

Her entrepreneurial spirit was her focus in the pageant. Pineda said she learned more about self-confidence and empowerment from the Miss Asia USA pageant. Prior to starting pageantry, she said she worried about public speaking. 

Miss Asia USA 2017 and pageant host Rachel Park said she empathized with Pineda’s reservations about public speaking and performing for larger audiences. 

“I saw a lot of myself in Ariana when it came to social anxieties,” Park said.

Pineda said the physical demands of pageantry were another challenge.

She said perfecting the model walk was difficult with the combination of long gowns, slippery floors and high heel shoes. 

“I couldn’t balance,” Pineda said. “The first time I tried (the high heels) on, I had to hold onto the desk because I literally couldn’t stand up. And so I had to do a lot of my own practice.” 

Pineda’s practice paid off, and she was crowned the 34th Miss Asia USA.

Virgelia Villegas of Virgelia Productions, the pageant’s sponsor, said Pineda’s beauty, poise and hardworking nature made her a good fit for the Miss Asia USA title. 

“She’s very focused,” Villegas said. “She was into really making sure that her parents, her community and overall the people that supported her and our sponsors will be very proud of her.”

Pineda said she is now enjoying new opportunities following her win.

She is in touch with photographers and movie producers, and she plans to visit Japan this  summer to attend fashion shows. Pineda was featured on a float with actor Danny Trejo in the Rose Parade, a New Year’s tradition in Pasadena, on Jan. 2. 

“You’re not just a photo prop,” Pineda said. “I did it for the network. I did it for publicity, to get myself out there, to market myself, to market my mission and to market the product I was working on.”

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Twitter: @lexipgoldstein

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