Beauty is about giving back. Isabela Corzo ’15, MPA '19 is living proof.
The alumna and staff member was named Miss Hialeah USA in November of 2020 and is currently preparing for the Miss Florida USA competition. The newfound platform is allowing her to impact her community at a whole new level.
As Miss Hialeah USA, Corzo has spent countless hours serving others and especially helping them get through a brutal pandemic. Just a few examples: She worked at various federal vaccination sites at Hialeah and helped translate English to Spanish-speaking residents. Amidst folks losing their jobs due to the pandemic, she helped distribute food to families and senior citizens in Hialeah and across South Florida.
Along with the Mayor of Hialeah, she distributed more than 600 Easter baskets for children. She’s also met with a number of local leaders and Hialeah’s elected officials to discuss ways to help Hialeah residents.
“This [becoming Miss Hialeah USA] has provided me an opportunity to have a voice in my community,” says Corzo. “It’s an opportunity to serve where I am needed, to develop new friendships. I’ve evolved, I’ve become a better version of myself. I’m living up to my potential. If I do win Miss Florida, I can impact so many more people.”
One of Corzo’s goals is to raise awareness about education, food insecurity and mental health issues. For years, Corzo has been working to help students take hold of educational opportunities. She previously worked at the McNair Scholars program at FIU, helping underrepresented and first-generation students prepare for doctoral studies, and she advocated for FIU in DC while interning with the team at the nation's capital. She mentors high school and college students on her own time.
The mental health aspect is also particularly personal.
Speaking out about mental health
Just a few years ago, life was different for Corzo. An Honors College grad focused on building her career at FIU, Corzo felt she was moving forward on a straight path – until a tragic loss left her reeling.
In 2019, her partner of nine years died by suicide. It was devastating.
“It was very hard for me to get through that loss,” Corzo says. Her fiancé's untimely death has fueled her desire to make a difference.
“I want to work with larger organizations to advocate and tell my story," she says. "I want people to know that it’s really important to speak to someone. It’s ok not to be ok. There are people out there who can help you sort everything out. It’s important for parents, family members and friends to understand that sometimes withdrawing, being aggressive, showing the symptoms [of mental health disorders] is a cry for help. That would be my message. You’ve got to be very supportive. With the proper support system, you can get through anything.”
After her partner's death, Corzo focused on academic and professional pursuits. Corzo, who had previously earned a bachelor's in biology, excelled at her master’s program in public administration, graduating in one year with a 4.0 GPA and completing a weeklong study abroad program in South Korea – all while working full-time.
During that year, she also landed a job as the coordinator of administrative services at FIU’s Office of the President – an exciting opportunity she took immediately.
“Work and school were my saving grace,” Corzo recalls. She kept busy. She grew. She achieved.
But when the pandemic hit, she realized she’d put her own health and wellbeing on the backburner.
“I had let myself go,” she recalls. “I always told myself I didn’t have enough time to exercise. But during COVID-19, I told myself, ‘No other excuses. I’m going to make this change.’”
Becoming Miss Hialeah USA
Corzo began working out with a personal trainer, Tamayra “Tammy” Sus Banko, who is mom to one of Corzo’s friends and fellow FIU grads. The exercise was grueling, but as Corzo made quick progress and lost 40 pounds, her trainer – who works with other beauty queens – began to see Corzo’s potential.
She encouraged her to compete in beauty pageants. Initially skeptical, Corzo received warm support from her family. She decided to take the chance.
Corzo threw herself into her new endeavor with the same fervor that led her to achieve previous success. She clocked in two to three hours at the gym every day. She began working with coaches to strengthen her interviewing skills and to learn how to strut on the catwalk – which is a lot harder than it looks on TV, adds Corzo.
Her hard work paid off: She was named Miss Hialeah USA.
“They told me that out of 2,000 applications, 80 of us were chosen to represent our towns,” Corzo says, adding that she’s actively shining a light on her beloved community through a social media campaign highlighting some of the city's cultural gems. “I’m very proud of having grown up in Hialeah and always have been. I want to be a great representation of a diverse community. I want people to think of Hialeah and know that great things can come out of there.”
Ultimately, she says, she wants her story to show people that you can always rise above the pain.
“I want to make sure that when people see me, they know that even though you go through difficult situations in your life, you have to propel yourself forward.”