Isabella Powell crowned Miss University of Alabama 2020


CW / Joe Will Field

Kinsley Centers, Staff Writer

Isabella Powell was crowned Miss University of Alabama 2020. Powell plans to serve the campus this upcoming year by being a voice for those who are underrepresented. She hopes to continue expanding her social impact initiative Gimme-a-Break – Providing Sensory Rooms for Children with Special Needs.

As a pageant titleholder, Isabella Powell has always had a dream to serve her university. This weekend, that dream came true. Powell, a senior majoring in vocal performance, was crowned Miss University of Alabama 2020.

“I was so shocked when they called my name, and I really just was so thankful and just felt like it was such a blessing because I know that really God has placed me here to do a lot of work on this campus this year,” Powell said.

The journey to competition weekend was filled with hard work for Powell. She practiced her song “The Prayer” for the talent section of the competition daily and honed her interview skills to ensure she could accurately portray to the judges who she was and what she wanted to bring to the University.

“I had always dreamed of becoming Miss University of Alabama, and I never knew that it would become a reality until this past weekend,” Powell said. “But I knew that either way I wanted to do work here on campus with my social impact initiative whether I was Miss U of A or whether I was someone else.”

Powell’s social impact initiative is Gimme-a-Break – Providing Sensory Rooms for Children with Special Needs. Her mission is to establish sensory rooms in schools across the state. A sensory room is a specific space used for children with special needs, which acts as their escape from the classroom. 

“Say you have a child that is just really hyperactive, can’t sit still in the classroom, who’s constantly, you know, fidgeting, and the teacher kind of sees that as a disruption to the classroom maybe because other kids are noticing this, and so instead of sending them out into the hallway or to the principal’s office, they now have the ability to send them to the sensory room,” Powell said.

Over the years, Powell has helped raise $20,000 for the implementation of five sensory rooms in four different schools, most of which have been elementary schools. Powell strives to establish a sensory room here on campus, as she has hopes that the University will be the first SEC school to do so.

“My inspiration behind my social impact [initiative] is my brother David,” Powell said. “At the age of 6 he was diagnosed with his special needs disorders, and so he has greatly been underrepresented in his school system and just in the eyes of his teachers sometimes or just his peer groups.  So, I strive for other students not to experience those things but to rather succeed in their education and get the opportunities that they deserve.”

Sensory rooms are one tool that can help these students succeed. The room, painted blue and filled with various sensory tools, helps the students engage in emotions they may have bottled up and are having trouble putting into words.

“They engage in activities that help them calm themselves like crashing into a crash mat or jumping on a Jumperoo, or if they somehow feel unsafe, we put a weighted vest on them, and that helps them feel safer,” Powell said. “But scientifically, their cortisol levels are lowered, and so the cortisol levels in your brain actually control your fight-or-flight emotions, and so once this happens this allows them to engage control over their emotions during the day so once they return back to the classroom they can learn better.”

While Powell is passionate about sensory rooms, she’s not stopping there. Powell wants to expand her reach even further and help give a voice to other underrepresented groups in the student body.

“I think just really becoming the voice for those students who are kind of underrepresented here on campus and whether that be like our LGBTQ+ communities, or like I said, I want to work closely with our students who are inside of the special-needs population, or whether that is people who are different in racial and ethnic backgrounds from myself,” Powell said.

Paul Houghtaling, a professor of music and director of voice and opera in the school of music, said Powell has been a part of the program for four years now and that she is a highly admired member of the company.

“She has spirited tenacity,” Houghtaling said. “She’s always been determined to be her best, to do her best, and she brings that out into other people around her, too. She’s the type of person that everybody really wants to work hard with and work hard for.”

Jada Foster, a senior majoring in vocal performance, met Powell in 2016 and has been friends with her since. She finds Powell’s ability to accomplish her goals to be inspiring.

“She really is the type of person that really wants everyone to be great and to be the best that they can be around her, and she would do any and everything to support everyone,” Foster said.