Student takes on new role: Miss Minnesota USA


Menomonie, Wis. — Danielle Hooper is on the fast track to get her undergraduate degree in 3½ years from University of Wisconsin-Stout.

The 20-year-old junior majoring in retail merchandising and management has hit an unexpected roadblock, however. On Nov. 25, Hooper, 20, was crowned Miss Minnesota USA 2013 at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center.

Hooper is “very excited” about her upcoming yearlong reign, one that promises to be highly educational in itself, but it could mean she will have to go to school part time for a semester and graduate in four years.

With the tiara nestled firmly in her blonde hair, her schedule in 2013 promises to be filled with appearances in the Twin Cities area — about 75 miles from UW-Stout — and beyond. In addition, she will be preparing for the Miss USA pageant next summer.

“I don’t want to give my schoolwork less than 100 percent, and I don’t want to give this title less than 100 percent,” she said. “They both deserve as much attention as I can give them. I’m trying to figure out at this point what I can handle.”

She does have one thing figured out: What she would like to accomplish as Miss Minnesota USA.

“Being Miss Minnesota USA is a very glamorous position, but I really want to emphasize that the women who compete are intelligent and make a difference and are not just another pretty face. I want to emphasize the influence you have with the title,” she said.
She hopes to raise awareness about Habitat for Humanity, a national nonprofit organization that builds homes for families in need. She helped build four homes in Florida last year.

That experience helped her the night she won the pageant. Her on-stage question as one of the final five contestants was what charity she would like to help if she won. With the national housing crisis and after Hurricane Sandy “a lot of people are in need. I would like to continue working with Habitat for Humanity,” she told the judges.

“I was really happy I got that question because the service part of the title is what’s really important to me,” she said.

Libby Watkins, assistant director of the pageant, is confident Hooper will make a great Miss Minnesota USA. "Danielle is not only gorgeous but quick on her feet and personable. Not to mention, she has a passion for charity work. I know she will represent Minnesota well while making appearances across the state and by forging alliances with many organizations this year. I imagine she will be a strong contender for the Miss USA title," Watkins said.

Hooper, from the St. Paul suburb of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., entered Miss Minnesota USA last year and made the top 12 but was not a top five finalist.

Contestants are judged over two days on personal interviews, swimsuit and evening gown competitions and final interview questions.

Her goal in the pageant this year was simply to reach the top five. “If I hadn’t gotten any further, I would have been OK with it. The top five are all amazing women, all gorgeous and worthy. I was just honored to have been up there at that point,” she said.

Hooper especially enjoyed the evening gown portion of the competition because she hopes to become a product buyer in the retail industry after graduating from UW-Stout. “It was so fun for me picking out the evening gown because I love women’s fashion,” said Hooper, who someday would like to own a bridal salon.

She is enjoying the retail merchandising and management courses at UW-Stout. Her concentration is buying and product management. She has received the Chancellor Award each semester for maintaining a high grade-point average.

“The program gives you a whole perspective of retail and gets you so well-prepared for the workforce,” she said. For more information on the program, go to

Hooper also works part time in the university Financial Aid Office.

Hooper has been in dance since age four but said she was very shy growing up. She didn’t enter any pageants until Miss Minnesota Teen USA while in high school. She did so only at the urging of her mother.
“I thought, ‘What have I got to lose? I said I’ll give it a shot,’ ” she said, adding that she still is a quiet person in general. “Moms do know best. I’m hoping this pageant will help pull me out of my shell a little bit.”

When her name was announced as the winner, she said that all she could think of was her parents and family in the audience and how excited they were. Her father, Tom, is a sheriff’s deputy in Dakota County, Minn., while her mother, Shelly, is a nurse at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul. Danielle has sisters ages 19 and 14.
“I thought I was dreaming,” she said. “It still hasn’t hit me.”

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