While most incoming college freshmen are packing nervously for school and dreaming about their welcome weekend festivities, Sophia Dominguez-Heithoff is doing something a little different.
The 17-year-old newly-crowned Miss Teen USA is celebrating her win with room service (mac ‘n cheese and french fries… Yum!) and she’s moving determinedly forward in the hopes of making a difference, all while prepping for her freshman year at the University of Kansas, which, luckily enough, is pretty close to an airport.
Between the studying for midterms and fast dashes to class, Dominguez-Heithoff, a Kansas City, Missouri native, is going to be serving as Miss Teen USA and advocating for the embrace of the differences of others, as well as the ability for women to use their voices to do the same.
Dominguez-Heithoff is attempting to make a change while actively working against the stigma that pageant girls are vapid or anything but well-rounded.
“I think that there are a lot of people who think pageants girls lack substance,” Dominguez-Heithoff said. “And it makes me so happy when I get to prove them wrong… You have a Miss Teen USA who graduated high school a year early and is studying political science to go to law school. It’s great if you can have beauty and brains and be confident while being in pageants as well.”
Her work proves her point flawlessly.
One of Sophia’s greatest passions is embracing differences and diversity, which she mentioned powerfully in her speech during the competition.
In the past, she lobbied for both the Missouri Senate and the Missouri House of Representatives to pass a law assisting adults with developmental disabilities in Missouri. She continues to do important work for adults like her aunt, who lives with Down syndrome, helping them gain access to the very same rights afforded to other adults.
“It is never too much work to do the right thing,” Dominguez-Heithoff said. “It has been really difficult to go onto Capitol Hill and, especially as a girl, have lawmakers take me seriously, but I think when you have a strong outfit and a confident smile and confidence in what [you are] saying, that all helps. I am lucky that my parents taught me to always do the right thing, even though it can be hard.”
She is also passionate about giving other girls a platform on which to speak, both in politics and in other professional arenas.
“I think having women more invested in politics is a huge issue in our government,” Dominguez-Heithoff said. “Women make up over 50% of the population in the U.S. and I think that they should be represented in the people that we elect… I was just thinking about the other day how we can solve this issue and I think that getting young girls involved in organizations like the Miss Universe organization pushes girls to be leaders and take challenges in the future and get a college education in technology, computers and math, anything that truly makes them passionate about what they are doing with their life. I think that’s how we solve that issue.”
Dominguez-Heithoff has done her research and she’s hoping that it’ll inspire other people to join her in creating change and pursuing their goals.
“If you look at how many Fortune 500 companies there are, there is a huge difference between the amount of male versus female CEOS,” she points out. “I would love to see that change.”
Luckily, Dominguez-Heithoff has been inspired by a few women before her, including Amal Clooney.
“I have really looked up to how [Amal] is not only beautiful, but she is able to inspire people, especially me, to have a career in law,” Dominguez-Heithoff said of Clooney. “She’s a human rights attorney, she’s worked with the UN before and I think it is awesome that she is a person who is beautiful and smart and commands attention and respect.”
It seems as though Dominguez-Heithoff is able to do the very same thing, being voted Most Likely To Become President by her fellow contestants in this year’s pageant.
The lessons that she’s learned will certainly help her get to the White House one day.
“The thing that I have most gotten from this is that I can truly, if I work hard enough for something, I can accomplish it,” Dominguez-Heithoff said.
In addition to the inevitable payoff from her impressive work ethic, she’s also learned how to get ready on the go, which is no easy feat, whether it’s in the Oval Office or between classes on campus.
“I’ve gotten really good at doing my own hair and makeup,” she said. “You know you have to have full-on hair done and full-on makeup done almost every day that you are competing in the events. I got really good and fast and that is something that I can use in my every day.”
All of these lessons and ambitions are preparing Miss Teen USA for a bright future, one that involves not only school, but some pretty out-of-the-ordinary travel requirements in comparison to the average college student.
“I am a freshman again but it’s all good, I’ll get back into it,” she said. “I chose the University of Kansas and I am so glad I did now. I am going to be 45 minutes away from the airport and 45 minutes to my house. I will be traveling a lot this year… I am going to be studying political science with an emphasis on public policy in America. I would also like to attend law school in the future, but I’m not sure where or when. I may take a gap year and study abroad. I really want to study abroad.”
Despite the unusual circumstances, she’s also, like most college students you know, craving some of the best food from her hometown (she loves the BBQ!) and looking forward to starting school, just with the addition of a pretty impressive title: Miss Teen USA.