Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Distinguished Young Woman winner plans to promote organization throughout state

Mountain Ridge High School's Aleksandra Knepper is planning a hectic senior year.

It will involve taking college courses, finishing her remaining high school class load, teaching karate, running track, performing on her school's dance team and participating with as many clubs as she can.

Despite her busy schedule, Knepper, the 2013 Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland, is also planning another significant enterprise for her final year of high school.

Knepper is planning to visit every Maryland public high school in the next 12 months to spread the word about the Distinguished Young Woman competition, which has awarded more than $65 million in cash and college scholarships to participants nationwide. More than 100,000 young women have participated in the competition, originally founded as America's Junior Miss in 1957.

After winning last weekend's state competition held at Carroll Community College's Smith Center, Knepper is eligible for full scholarships to several southern-based schools, including the University of South Alabama and Troy University in Troy, Ala. The last four DYW winners from Maryland accepted full scholarships. She will represent Maryland in the June 2013 national competition in Alabama.

With so much scholarship money at stake, Knepper said she wants to encourage other teens statewide to take advantage of the program.

"This is an opportunity that you don't want to pass up," said Knepper, an aspiring broadcast journalist who will start taking college coursework next year at Frostburg State University. "You can't pass it up. The full-ride offers? That's just unheard of anywhere else you would go."

She's already discussed with Distinguished Young Woman of Maryland organizer Cheri Poklemba about her hope to visit all public high schools. They plan more in-depth discussions about her promotion platform soon.

"I think she is just going to be a wonderful representative," Poklemba said.

It will just require some time management, Knepper said.

Knepper is the daughter of a retired police officer and more than capable of defending herself. She's been taking karate for most of her life and boasts an adult black belt. When she's not instructing karate at Kick Masters Karate near Frostburg, she's engaged in multiple school activities.

Her 4x800 high school relay finished second in the Class 1A portion of this year's state track meet. Knepper ran the second leg. She is returning this year to be part of the Mountain Ridge Diamonds dance cheer team.

Despite all that, Knepper will try approaching every high school about speaking about the Distinguished Young Women program. If she runs into scheduling difficulties, she said her fellow participants from this year can be utilized to help spread the word at their schools and those nearby.

Several participants expressed a desire to do that prior to the competition, including Winters Mill rising senior Kaelly Miller and Westminster rising senior Carli Shaw.

"They are fantastic representatives of this program," Knepper said of all this year's participants. "And to piggy-back our efforts and team up with each other would be just a phenomenal thing to do."