Miss Iowa 2016 Kelly Koch will take the Miss America stage on Sunday to not only represent the state of Iowa, but also the Cyclone community.
Koch is a junior majoring in child, adult and family services. She is originally from Waukee, Iowa, and graduated from Waukee High School in 2014.
During high school, she was a member of a nationally-ranked dance team and was involved in studio dance. She also was a member of the National Honor Society and Homecoming court.
Having lived in Waukee since she was 2 years old, Koch said growing up in a rapidly-growing city shaped her love for living in Iowa. She was even voted “Most Likely to Live In Waukee” by her high school class.
“I am used to change and growth and I find that important to appreciate as Miss Iowa,” she said.
Koch first entered the pageant world in 2015, competing in Miss America Organization competitions. She was motivated to compete because of the scholarship awards given to contestants. The first pageant she competed in was for the title of Miss Muscatine. She finished runner-up but went on to win Miss Metro, representing the Des Moines area. Koch then competed for Miss Iowa and received second runner-up.
This year, Koch won the Miss Polk County title, which set her up to win the Miss Iowa crown in June.
Her personal service platform for the Miss America competitions is the Pinky Swear Foundation. The foundation serves to help children diagnosed with cancer and their families with basic needs and support.
The Sept. 11 pageant also coincides with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which Koch has been involved with through her efforts as an ambassador. As an ambassador, she has participated in various fundraisers and donation collections for the foundation.
She said she chose the platform after visiting the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in Iowa City last year and meeting children who were battling cancer. She accredits that same experience with helping her decide her future career as a child life specialist.
“The last two years have given me so much more than crowns and glamour," she said. "It has shown me my full love of service, what I want as a career and has allowed me to continue dancing."
Outside of the pageant, Koch is a member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. During her first two years at Iowa State, she was a member of the ISU Dance Team. Some of her favorite memories as a Cyclone include dancing on the Jack Trice Stadium field in front of thousands of Cyclone fans, running through the Campanile as part of bid day for Gamma Phi Beta and studying in a corner of the library during winter with a cup of hot chocolate from Caribou Coffee.
Even though she is taking a break from school during the current academic year to focus on fulfilling duties as Miss Iowa — and hopefully as Miss America — Koch said she will miss “the beautiful campus, my team, sisters and college life.”
“I do know, though, that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful to serve Iowa,” she said.
In her free time — what little she has these days — she enjoys watching Netflix, taking ballet classes to hone her skills for the competitions, doing yoga, cheering on the Cyclones in sporting events and spending time with her friends. One of her closest friends and fellow Gamma Phi Beta sister, senior Morgan Mann, said that with Koch, “What you see is what you get.”
“There is no fake side to her," Mann said. "She speaks her mind with confidence and she isn't afraid to give her opinion on anything."
Mann described Koch as “spunky and confident,” but said that if she could sum up her friend in one word, it would be “passionate.”
“She is passionate about absolutely everything she does and truly puts her whole heart into it,” Mann said.
Mann believes Koch has the determination and all of the characteristics necessary to win the Miss America title.
“She's worked her booty off to get where she is today, and I know that she will leave her heart out on that Miss America stage,” Mann said.
Koch will have to participate in five phases before stepping on the stage Sunday. In the talent phase, Koch will perform ballet en pointe to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme song.
Other phases include lifestyle and fitness in a swimsuit, showing in an evening gown and an on-stage question. Koch said the hardest portion she had to prepare for was the 10-minute preliminary interview.
“Not only are you worried about your answer, you are also worried about standing out in comparison to 52 other women," she said. "But I am practicing very hard and I know God has a plan for everything."
The final night of the Miss America pageant will air live at 10 p.m. on ABC. Koch has been updating social media about her competition experience. Anyone can follow her on Twitter (@MissAmericaIA), Facebook (Miss Iowa Kelly Koch), and Snapchat, Instagram and Tumblr (all under “missamericaia”).