Erika was born and raised in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois and graduated from Urbana High School. Having grown up surrounded by the Orange and Blue, Erika decided to attend college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she majored in Political Science. She graduated from the U of I in 2001 as a Phi Beta Kappa inductee and a Chancellor’s Scholar.
Erika then applied to and was accepted by several law schools, including Harvard Law School. Lacking the funds, however, to pay for law school, Erika decided to compete in the Miss America Organization to attempt to earn the scholarship money necessary to pay for law school. Erika went on to be crowned Miss Illinois 2002 and Miss America 2003, earning thousands of dollars in scholarships along the way.
As Miss America 2003, Erika promoted the platform Preventing Youth Violence and Bullying, sharing with more than 100,000 students her own experience of overcoming bullying. She also helped to elevate the public’s consciousness of the effects of bullying, discussing peer-to-peer harassment on television shows such as Good Morning America and The Today Show and helping to release Fight Crime, Invest in Kids’ bullying prevention report at the National Press Club. In recognition of her advocacy, Erika was named one of Fight Crime, Invest in Kids’ “Champions for Children” and received a leadership award from the National Center for Victims of Crime. During her year as Miss America, Erika also championed the Children’s Miracle Network and the USO, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving America’s troops.
During the summer of 2004, Erika became involved in President Bush’s re-election campaign, serving on the national steering committee of W Stands for Women and participating in an outreach to African-American business and community leaders. Erika also served as an Illinois delegate to the 2004 Republican National Convention, where she was a featured speaker on the importance of faith-based and community initiatives.
Following her national advocacy tour and after having deferred her enrollment in order to complete her year as Miss America, Erika entered Harvard Law School. Erika graduated debt-free from Harvard in 2007 (thanks to the scholarships earned as Miss America) and won a Boykin C. Wright Memorial Award for her appellate advocacy in Harvard’s prestigious Ames Moot Court Competition.
Upon graduating from law school, Erika worked as an attorney in the litigation groups of Sidley Austin LLP and Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C. Erika represented businesses in commercial disputes and advised religious institutions in matters involving First Amendment protections. She also was active in the law firms’ respective pro bono efforts, teaching students about the U.S. legal system as part of the Lawyers in the Classroom program and coaching a team of high school students in the City-Wide Mock Trial Competition. Erika currently is an attorney at Meyer Capel, Champaign County’s largest law firm.
Erika also serves on the board of directors of Prison Fellowship, the national outreach to prisoners and their families founded by the late Chuck Colson. Erika has presented faith-based messages in prisons such as Louisiana State Penitentiary (the men’s maximum security prison also known as “Angola”) and Central California Women's Facility, speaking to women on California’s death row. Additionally, Erika is a spokesperson for Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree, a program that provides Christmas gifts to children who have an incarcerated parent. Erika was honored by Athena International as its 2011 Global ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award Recipient.
Erika lives in Urbana and is the doting Auntie of one adorable niece and two high-energy nephews.