Miss Coconino County USA: Holly Hansen puts the passion into pageant

Although several students can say they are a double major in STEM, part of the Student Philanthropy Council or part of NAU’s Ambassadors of the College of the Environment, Forestry and Natural Sciences, only sophomore Holly Hansen can claim all three while being Miss Coconino County USA. Hansen is preparing to compete in the Miss Arizona USA pageant.

Hansen said she got involved with pageantry when she graduated from high school and competed in the Miss U.S. International pageant. She was appointed the title of Miss Arizona within that pageant system. From that moment on, she said she fell in love with pageantry and how it has helped build her confidence. 

Although Hansen was holding off on competing for a while, she said she was met with the opportunity to compete in the Miss Arizona USA pageant and that pushed her toward doing another. Hansen said she got to choose her title and she wanted to represent Coconino County. 

“They actually [direct messaged] me on Instagram and I was like, OK, ‘I’m just going to go for it,’” Hansen said. “I talked to my parents about it and they support me and everything that I do for it. I am currently Miss Coconino County USA for the Miss Arizona USA pageant.”

Britt Powell is the president of Casting Crowns Production Inc., a company that is a licensee for the Miss Universe pageant. She is also the executive director of the Miss Arizona USA pageant and the Miss Arizona Teen USA pageant. Powell said this will be her sixteenth pageant she has directed for the state of Arizona. She said she oversees everything from start to finish, including recruitment. 

Powell said her goal is to fill the stage with the most amazing women Arizona has to offer. She said Casting Crowns wants to make the pageant a place for individual growth. Many people have preconceived notions about pageants, Powell said, but Casting Crowns has been conscientiously crafting a safe and supportive space for young women in Arizona. She said competitors love the sisterhood they have found within the pageant community.

“So what’s important in life and in this pageant is that every young woman who chooses to be a part of this adventure learns what makes her fabulous,” Powell said.  “I want every young woman to dig deep and figure out what makes her unique in this world. There’s only going to be one Holly Hansen. There’s only going to be one of each individual in this world. So I want each young lady to find and embrace her uniqueness and her individuality.”

Powell said her team has had to adapt and use social media more as opposed to finding people in public. She said social media presented them with a new opportunity to get together virtually and reach out to a broader range of women.

Every competitor can submit different choices for their titles, she said. Hansen chose Coconino County because she wants to represent northern Arizona and she will have pride having that on her sash, Powell said. She said they encourage the competitors to choose titles of areas they are proud to stand for.

Sophomore Mackenzie Gruber has been Hansen’s roommate since they started college and said Hansen has been working to showcase the Coconino County landscape. Gruber said a majority of her platform is on environmental improvement. Flagstaff is fairly liberal with their environmental efforts, she said, so Hansen works hard to spread awareness through friends, social media and any other platforms she can find.

Gruber said Hansen has a passion for the environment, science and the people around her.

“She’s very caring and she likes to take care of everyone around her and see how they’re doing,” Gruber said. “She pays attention to you and she’s very oriented with how you feel.”

Sophomore Clay Culpepper, another close friend of Hansen’s, said she values trying to help other people and trying to make the world a better place.

Gruber said she has seen the pageant affect Hansen’s confidence because she has been able to showcase herself in a positive light. She does not dwell on what she is not able to change, instead, she focuses on what she has done, Gruber said. 

Hansen said she is preparing herself for the pageant by practicing her interview responses. In this pageant, the competitors are being judged on evening gown presentation, swimsuit presentation and the responses given to their interview. Hansen has been working on her speaking skills and what her answers would be to political and controversial questions, she said. 

Hansen’s interview skills have improved since preparing for the pageant, Gruber said. Gruber explained Hansen has been able to take the abilities she has learned from past pageants and apply them to her life.

“She’s putting her love from the past pageant into this one in hopes to become Miss Arizona and possibly go further,” Gruber said.

Culpepper said Hansen dedicates time to her extracurricular activities. He said with any free time she has, she uses it to take up a new activity and try to help with another cause. 

“She really enjoys [her extracurricular activities] and she puts in all of her effort,” Culpepper said. “It’s not like she’s just doing it to do it. She’s not halfway doing anything, she’s fully committed.” 

Culpepper said Hansen has tried to better herself and better the community. He said Hansen visited a variety of local businesses in Flagstaff to see if she can help them out with advertisements and if they can help her out with promotion.

Hansen said she is looking for sponsorships from local businesses in Flagstaff and representation in both Coconino County and her hometown of Ahwatukee, Arizona. Finding sponsorships is part of the arrangements made for the pageant because the pageant fees can be expensive, Hansen said. She said she has been contacting businesses since November, but it has been hard reaching out to people, especially during the pandemic because many businesses are struggling with money. 

Hansen said one of her biggest concerns is to promote sustainability with her platform. She said if she does win the pageant, she wants to promote both women in STEM and living an eco-friendly lifestyle.

“I want to implement maybe a program in elementary schools to help educate our youth on how to live more sustainably because I believe it should be taught at an early age,” Hansen said. “I really just want to be an advocate for climate change awareness.”

Others in northern Arizona can get involved with the pageant as well. The pageant has the miss section for women 18 to 27 or a teen section for those who are 14 to 18 years old, Powell said. 

  Hansen said she is competing in the miss section along with Miss Flagstaff USA, but the teen section of the pageant needs representatives from northern Arizona. She said the pageant directors are looking for more representation because a majority of competitors come from Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. 

“To have someone else to help represent Flagstaff and NAU itself would be really cool,” Hansen said. 

There are a variety of different pageant systems within Arizona. The Miss Arizona USA pageant system goes on to the Miss USA and then, Miss Universe system. Both are typically televised and require a talent performance, Hansen said.

Powell said in regard to COVID-19 precautions, until they get close to the event scheduled at the end of May, they are in a waiting period. She said they will accommodate with the restrictions set for where Arizona is with the pandemic at that time. Powell said they will do whatever it takes as soon as they know the date and guidelines.

 Hansen said she hopes to get her name out there in order to do well in the Arizona-level pageant. Hansen has dedicated her time to composing herself to be ready to compete. 

Lots of people have stigmas against pageants, but competitors like Hansen are working to show the benefits of it. She said she has gained confidence from pageantry — that confidence has helped her pick up many other skills. She has worked to merit the title of Coconino County, advocating for what she believes is right.