Alumna Rachel Latuff was crowned Miss Minnesota this week.
Sarah Morreim Photography
A UMD Bulldog is wearing the Miss Minnesota crown.
School of Fine Arts alumna Rachel Latuff was chosen among 26 women at the 80th annual Miss Minnesota Scholarship Pageant this week, launching a year as an ambassador for the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
For Rachel, an art teacher at Northwoods School in Cook, Minn., her new title is a fifty/fifty split between obligation and opportunity. “Being an ambassador means more than just walking around looking pretty. I have an opportunity to empower education, which is huge.”
This authentic, almost raw, passion for education was developed at UMD and noted by pageant judges. Rachel says the best part of winning Miss Minnesota is that the title gives her a louder voice to share what she knows with absolute clarity.
Rachel never actually liked school growing up, except for art class. It wasn't until she was a junior in high school that a love of being with kids initiated thoughts of becoming a teacher. Evidently she chose the right career path, saying that people continually comment that it's what she was born to do. "I'm making a difference every day for these kids and that's what fuels me."
Other educators, including ones who taught Rachel, are applauding her efforts. Erin Pepelnjak, an instructor at UMD, stresses how needed Rachel's platform is. “In a time when the state of education is often pared down to sound bites about test scores, Rachel is shining a light on the beautiful humanity of what is happening in so many classrooms everyday. Rachel is using her gifts to celebrate, inspire, and help grow our profession through positive recognition and support. The world will be a better place because of Rachel's influence.”
Rachel is especially looking forward to influencing art education, “This will illustrate how important it is that we don’t lose the arts in school," she says. "Kids want to learn about themselves and art is a chance for students to learn about their heart. There’ll be days that the only reason my students come to school is so that they can come to art class.”
Art Education Professor Alison Aune taught Rachel in 2011. She says she's not surprised that Rachel is Miss Minnesota, describing her as a dynamic and a passionate person, but it's Rachel's commitment to making sure that art is accessible that Alison is the most excited about. "I have no doubt that Rachel’s work as an arts advocate will help towards promoting schools to be healing communities of respectful learners and compassionate world citizens.”
The pedagogy taught at UMD was transformed into Rachel's platform. With her Miss Minnesota title, this platform can amplify the lessons of UMD's education department - being a positive agent of change in the lives of students and in the teaching profession.
Rachel acknowledges that it's often what's not in the lesson plan that resonates the most. She's received some congratulatory messages from her students and says it means the world to her that they're watching, "They might not remember everything I teach them, but they’ll remember the time I put myself out there and did something really brave.”
Rachel got her start in pageants relatively recently in Duluth's Miss Bayfront competition. From here, the Hastings native catapulted into the Miss St. Paul and Miss Olmsted County titles. Not long after the start of the 2015 school year, Rachel will stand next to 49 other women vying for the big crown: Miss America. Until that time, Northwoods School's Miss Latuff is focused on continuing to advocate for education as Miss Minnesota.
Story by Lori C. Melton, June 2015
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