Class of their own


When she was younger, Alexis Koch presented awards onstage during the Jackson County Junior Miss competition.

On Saturday, the Brownstown Central High School senior was back on the stage but this time as a competitor in what’s now known as the Jackson County Distinguished Young Women scholarship program.

At the end of the competition in the Brownstown Central High School auditorium, she heard her name called as the winner.

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“When I was really little, I was the girl that walked around and gave the awards, so I kind of always had my heart set on doing this ever since then,” she said. “I guess it’s kind of a dream come true to actually do this and actually get something out of it. It was a really, really neat experience.”

Koch was one of seven girls competing in the 22nd year of the program in Jackson County. Seymour High School senior Mya Findley was named first runner-up, while one of her classmates, Addisen Rudge, was named second runner-up.

The program allows high school senior girls to compete for college scholarships and the opportunity to represent the state as the Distinguished Young Woman of Indiana for 2017.

They were evaluated by a panel of five judges in the following categories — scholastic (25 percent), interview (25 percent), talent (20 percent), fitness (15 percent) and self-expression (15 percent).

Koch advances to the state competition in February in Kokomo. The winner there will advance to the 60th Distinguished Young Women National Finals in June in Mobile, Alabama, joining 50 other representatives from across the country in competing for cash scholarships and the opportunity to represent the program as the Distinguished Young Woman of America.

Koch was awarded an $1,800 scholarship for winning the county competition. She also collected a pair of $250 scholarships for winning the self-expression and talent categories.

She will put that $2,300 toward college, where she plans to study interior design or occupational therapy.

“I’m just very, very blessed to even have that opportunity and actually win that,” Koch said. “It’s going to be a big help for college, and I’m really excited for the future opportunities that it gives me.”

With self-expression, Koch said the contestants were given a question about a half-hour before the competition. Then during one part of the program, they walked up to a microphone to tell the audience what they feel is the country’s greatest resource.

Koch’s response was Americans giving a helping hand, particularly after disasters.

During the talent portion, Koch played piano. That’s something she started doing in first grade.

“Actually, I stopped for a little bit just a few months ago, so I had to go scrambling for a piece,” she said. “I’ve been practicing that really hard these past few weeks. I was really excited because that was the first time I didn’t mess up once. I was really excited when I got backstage.”

In the next several months, Koch will work with Barb Leffler and Jamie Temple, who helped coordinate the county competition, so she’s prepared for the state competition.

Koch said she expects that level to be different. She will spend that week with a host family in Kokomo as she attends practices and events.

“I’m really excited to meet all of the girls there and go somewhere bigger,” she said. “Obviously, it will be a lot harder there.”

Findley earned a $900 scholarship for first runner-up. She also won scholastic ($250), interview ($250) and the Warren/Silver Spirit Award ($200).

The scholastic and interview portions were done before Saturday’s competition, while the spirit award was voted on by the contestants.

Scholastic involves qualified educators reviewing and rating each contestant’s transcript of grades and scores of scholastic tests and exams.

“When you get in high school, grades matter,” Findley said. “So I always made it a priority to make sure I would keep A’s, and I always wanted to be in the top classes that I could be in, whether that was dual credit or accelerated or taking electives that I knew would help me whenever it came to my career choice.”

The 10-minute interview with the five judges involved questions based on information provided by each girl through an online application.

“It was a wide spectrum of questions that I was able to answer, and it was relieving to hear the questions and to know that, ‘Hey, I can answer this, I can do this,'” Findley said. “It was very casual but very formal at the same time. I felt totally relaxed with them. It was a great time.”

Rudge received a $450 scholarship for second runner-up. She also earned a $250 scholarship for the Be Your Best Self Award and was recognized for selling the most tickets to Saturday’s show.

The Be Your Best Self Award was based on an essay each contestant wrote. They had to pick from one of five topics and write less than 500 words.

Rudge said she chose to write about setting a goal and accomplishing it.

“I talked about one in the classroom and one in the weight room,” she said. “Then I just talked about one internally. That was the last paragraph, and it just talked about knowing how blessed I am to have a family and impacting people in positive ways.”

The other awarded handed out was for physical fitness, and the $250 scholarship went to Trinity Lutheran High School senior Hailley Peters.

The Distinguished Young Women program was not conducted in Jackson County this past year, so the contestants were glad to see it return.

Koch said she became friends with all of the girls.

“It’s like we’re best friends,” she said. “It’s really awesome. It was so fun. Everyone was so deserving. It was just really humbling to actually win.”

Findley said she nearly didn’t participate, but she was glad she decided to give it a shot.

“I went into this not even exactly knowing what it was about. I almost didn’t even want to do it,” she said. “It was just one of those things where I was like, ‘Another scholarship, let’s go for it.’ … It has been an experience that honestly, I will never be able to forget. It has been unlike any other experience. It was worth every minute of it.”

Rudge said she recommends the competition to other girls.

“It was definitely worth the experience,” she said. “I would have been happy no matter what the outcome was just because I met so many cool people and made a lot of new friends.”

Temple and Leffler both had been involved in the program in the past and were glad they came together last summer and decided to revive it this year.

A callout meeting was conducted in May, and the contestants spent two or three hours each night this past week learning the fitness routine and preparing for other aspects of the competition.

“They synced really well together,” Temple said. “They were a great group of girls that really were easy to work with. We got things done very quickly, so it was great. It really made the first year coming back really easier.”

Leffler said it’s important to have the program in the county.

“I think it’s good for the seniors,” she said. “They get scholarship money. The experience, I think, is the biggest part of it — being on stage and the interview.”

They already are looking forward to next year and would like to see more contestants.

“You don’t know what it is until you get into it and do it, and I think these girls would never turn around and say that they would not do it again,” Temple said. “At the drop of a hat, they would do it again because it was a good experience.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

2017 Jackson County Distinguished Young Women scholarship program

Winner: Alexis Koch

First runner-up: Mya Findley

Second runner-up: Addisen Rudge

Most tickets sold: Addisen Rudge

Physical fitness: Hailley Peters

Self-expression: Alexis Koch

Talent: Alexis Koch

Scholastic: Mya Findley

Interview: Mya Findley

Be Your Best Self Award: Addisen Rudge

Warren/Silver Spirit Award: Mya Findley

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For information about the Distinguished Young Women national scholarship program, visit


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