Cranston's Alexandra Coppa, named Miss Rhode Island Outstanding Teen 2012 earlier this year, heads to Orlando this week to compete in the National Competition, representing Rhode Island. Coppa, an incoming junior at St. Mary Academy Bay View, excelled in both the academic and talent portions of the Rhode Island competition.
"I have been a dancer at Atwood Performing Arts since I was 2 years old. At 8 years old, I was competing," said Coppa, who takes all different types of dance at the studio, including lyrical, jazz, musical theater, hip hop and contemporary.
Coppa feels that her years of dancing helped her prepare for the competition.
"Dancing has helped to boost my confidence so much. I was shy in middle school," she said. "It's also made me physically fit and it's given me a talent for the competition."
Talent is just one part of the competition, however, with academics weighing in heavily.
At Bay View, Coppa has a 4.91 grade point average and is a member of the National Honor Society, the Student Council, the Model Legislatures, Kids to Kids and the school ambassador program. She has been on the honor roll consistently and has enrolled in AP classes during her time at Bay View. She credits the school with helping her to come out of her shell while teaching her to work hard.
"I always do the best I can do. I was always the underdog and I had to push to get ahead," she said.
This year was actually Coppa's second year competing as Miss Rhode Island Outstanding Teen.
"When I didn't win last year I couldn't just give up. I had to push myself to do it again," she said, adding that she had to work on her interview skills for this year's competition.
"This pageant is different than a beauty pageant. It's more of a scholarship program. There's no swimsuit competition, but there's a physical fitness routine. It's much more conservative than a beauty pageant," said Coppa.
Coppa said the hardest part of the whole process was, in fact, the interview portion.
"You have just 10 minutes to portray yourself the best way possible to the judges, to show them all of your accomplishments and make yourself out to be the best person for the job," she said. "It’s different than dancing on stage. You're speaking in front of five high-powered judges."
Another part of the competition is the contestants' platforms, an issue they agree to promote during their tenure as Miss Rhode Island Outstanding Teen. Coppa's platform is entitled "Mesothelioma: Death on Delay," and it is a disease that she has a personal connection to.
"My grandpa died of Mesothelioma when I was in the fourth grade," Coppa said. "Mesothelioma is a cancer of the chest, lungs, heart and abdomen and it's caused by exposure to asbestos, but it has a latency period of 20 to 50 years. By the time the symptoms show up, the patients only have 12 months to live. There is no cure and the only treatment extends their lives by only three months.”
The lack of funding and lack of overall knowledge of Mesothelioma, as well as her personal connection to the cause, is what made Coppa choose her platform.
"I am hoping to get a bill passed to increase funding and to get rid of asbestos altogether," she said, noting that asbestos is found in things such as insulation, sound proofing materials, fertilizer and even some talcum powders. "People are inhaling it and are not even aware of it."
Even with the national competition right around the corner, Coppa is looking ahead to college.
"I'd like to go to Stanford or BC, Harvard or Brown," she said. "I am hoping to become a forensic psychiatrist. I'd like to testify in court for criminal cases. Originally I wanted to be a lawyer and now I want to be in the medical field, so this would merge the two together.”
Her parents, Teresa and Michael Coppa, are thrilled at their daughter's success thus far and are looking forward to seeing how she fares in Orlando.
"The interview portion was really difficult and not something that comes easily to most people," said Teresa Coppa. "This will help her in the future with college interviews and job interviews. It's so much more than a beauty pageant. There's more scholarship, academics and talent involved."
If Coppa wins the national competition, she will be known as Miss America Outstanding Teen and will travel the country, promoting her platform, possibly appearing with Miss America on occasion.
"It won't interfere with my studies though. I'll still keep up my grades because this is a scholarship program," she said.