Class of 2016, Early Childhood Education
Hometown: Eagle River, Alaska
Fun Fact: JoEllen sewed quilts that won blue ribbons at the Alaska State Fair.
JoEllen Walters sat, poised and regal in tiara, sash and ornate blue dress. Her perfectly manicured hands rested gracefully on her knees and her wide, cornflower-blue eyes sparkled as a photographer captured her photo.
Ten minutes later, JoEllen, 20, now clad in jeans and a Lady Mustangs hockey sweatshirt, her feet bare, laughed as she described what it was like competing in her first pageant four years ago, in her hometown of Eagle River.
“I was really shy,” she said of that competition, in which she vied for the title of Miss Bear Paw. “I didn’t win. We each had to wear an Alaska costume. My first year, I was a mosquito. The girl who won had the best costume—she was an ulu.”
Cultivating skills for life
JoEllen won the Miss Bear Paw competition the following year—she dressed as a totem pole for the costume competition—and went on to amass other pageant titles. Now, she reigns as Miss Alaska Collegiate America, and will represent Alaska at the Miss Collegiate America Pageant in July at the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla.
“I didn’t think pageants were for me, but I enjoyed them,” JoEllen said. “I realized how much good there is in pageants. There’s scholarship money, and my interview skills now are very good. I can speak to others, not shy like I used to be. Now I have the skills to make a good impression on a potential employer.”
She particularly likes the Collegiate pageant, which doesn’t require competitors to perform or sashay on stage in a swimsuit.
“I don’t have that [performing] kind of talent and that perfect bikini body,” JoEllen said. “I love [the Collegiate pageant]. It was made for me. It lets me showcase my talents in the ways I’d like to showcase them.”
JoEllen has cultivated talents that aren’t as easy to display on stage as an aria or a snippet from a concerto. They’re better displayed on rink ice, out in the community, among other students or at a sewing machine.
She serves as a resident adviser for one of UAA’s Main Apartment Complex (MAC) buildings on campus, has sewed quilts since she was in the fourth grade, participates in Greek life as a member of the Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority—the girl who grew up with three brothers now has 40 “sisters”—and has played hockey for 10 years, first for the Lady Mustangs girls hockey program and then, at the same time, for Chugiak High School’s girls varsity hockey team, for which she served as an assistant captain.
JoEllen’s face radiated enthusiasm as she talked about her days as a hockey player. She said she recently signed up for a hockey class at UAA.
“Pickup games cost $17 a game and I’m a broke college student,” she said, smiling. “Now, I’m guaranteed to be on the ice once a week for a grade.”
A key element of JoEllen’s life is a passion for helping other people, particularly children. She volunteers for Special Olympics, Covenant House and National Prescription Drug Take-Back. She also takes part in Learning for Life, visiting Title I schools three times a week. Title I is a federal program that provides money to schools with high percentages of kids who are disadvantaged in some way, to provide extra educational assistance for those children.
“It’s an opportunity to talk to kids,” she said about her work with Learning for Life. “I didn’t know people who went to Title I schools. It’s a different environment than I was with in elementary schools. It’s preparing me for being an educator working in those schools.”
Her volunteer efforts enrich the work she is doing at UAA in pursuit of her Elementary Education major and Early Childhood Special Education minor.
“I’ll be qualified to teach special education,” she said. “That’s something I’d never had experience with. I can’t ever remember really knowing many kids who had special needs when I was growing up. That’s a different world I’d like to know more about.”
Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement.