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So Much More

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Alexis Cooper always felt like she was
outside a big glass house looking in.

“But occasionally someone opens a window or a door and I have a chance to get to know people and explain to them how some of the things they do or say affect me,” she says.

That moment came during the 2018 Miss USU pageant when she used the event’s theme There’s More to Me, to tell people some of her truth about being a young black woman who is part of a predominantly white student body. For her talent, Cooper wrote and performed a spoken word poem about some of her experiences.

Alexis Cooper and a cow

Alexis Cooper won Aggies over at the 2018 Miss USU Pageant with her spoken word poem.

The Utah native is majoring in bio-veterinary science and completing minors in chemistry and biology. She received an Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities grant to fund a summer research project with Professor Juan Villalba, studying ways to make Medusa head, an invasive weed, more palatable to grazing cattle. Cooper credits her maternal grandmother Irene Jenson, a USU alumna, sparking an interest in veterinary medicine.

“I would like to be a mixed-practice vet (treating large and small animals),” Cooper says. “I am concerned about animal health and welfare, but I am also pretty practical and know that raising large animals comes with financial realities. I have so much respect for farmers and the time and energy it takes to be successful.”

After high school Cooper moved to Alabama to attend Tuskegee University on a full scholarship, but a family tragedy brought her back to Utah and she decided to finish college closer to home. “I didn’t think I would like it here [at USU],” Cooper admits. “I’m black. I am not LDS. Nearly all my friends from high school who came here are married, some even have children. I just didn’t think this would be the place for me. But it’s so beautiful here!  … People are so open and I really feel like everyone is interested in my education and my future. We are all different in many ways, but it really feels like we are a big family. Our big Aggie family.”

Not everything in her life has been warm and inclusive, and Cooper transformed some of those experiences and feelings into a winning performance.

A version of this story first appeared in Cultivate, a publication of USU’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences. View Alexis Cooper reciting her poem at tinyurl.com/AlexisCooper.

by Lynnette Harris
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