Hannah Edelen has quite the busy schedule balancing her time as Miss Kentucky, the official spokesperson for Kentucky Proud, a doctoral student and a school board member for Covington Independent Public Schools. But she doesn’t let that get in the way of her biggest passion: education.
Edelen, a native of Springfield, Kentucky, grew up in a financially challenged household while her mother battled a brain tumor throughout her childhood.
During her time as a student at Washington County High School, Edelen found solace in her family and consumer sciences teacher, Sarah Raikes, who influenced her to apply for the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars program. Edelen’s childhood experience is one of the main reasons she chose to be open and vulnerable in her role as Miss Kentucky to show Kentuckians what is possible through mentorship, scholarship opportunities and dreaming big.
When Edelen graduated from high school and found herself at Northern Kentucky University, she jumped in with both feet. The first-generation college student was nothing short of heavily involved during her time on campus. She was a resident assistant (RA), an orientation leader, the vice president of public relations and later president of NKU’s Student Government Association, a member of NKU's Board of Regents, vice president of operations for her Kappa Delta Sorority Eta Eta Chapter and an intern in NKU’s Office of Government, Corporate and Foundation Engagement.
“I always think of NKU as home base for me. I came to NKU not knowing a single person, and I kind of had to create a community of my own up here, which I was really excited about,” she says. “The way NKU embraced me and the opportunities it gave me was amazing. The type of people that work at NKU would bend over backward to help you succeed. It was like family to me, and I’m so thankful for that. I couldn't imagine having a better experience during my undergraduate career.”
When Edelen planned her post-NKU future, she considered public policy and worked as a communications intern for the City of Covington. She was also a state General Assembly intern, but while working in Washington D.C. as a public policy congressional intern, her trajectory changed. She realized, after experiencing a life-changing relationship with a teacher, that her passion was with children and education.
“Even though I had a great experience, I just didn’t feel like I was able to connect with kids and make a meaningful impact like I wanted to,” Edelen says.
During her senior year, Edelen began working as an instructional assistant at Holmes Middle School within the Covington Independent School District. After graduating from NKU in 2020 with degrees in communication and history, she began a two-year contract with Teach for America, an alternative certification program for teachers, and taught social studies and English to sixth graders.
“This experience has shown me that I can contribute to this world. I'm thinking about myself as a contributor in this world, and how we all can be that—regardless of what your background looks like. We can make a meaningful impact, and as long as you're leading in an authentic and loving way, I think other people will see that, too.”
Edelen is no stranger to being on stage. While juggling teaching and competing in several local and regional pageants, she earned her ticket to the Miss Kentucky competition in 2022. Considering her passion for children, it’s no surprise that Edelen chose an initiative involving education: Read Ready Kentucky, which is inspired by the local Covington initiative Read Ready Covington. During Edelen's time working for the city, she became passionate about the cause and brought this initiative across the state in collaboration with Mayor Joe Meyer.
“Read Ready Kentucky is a social impact initiative,” she says. “Every young woman has a social impact initiative. It's a passion that they speak to, and for me it’s reading and education. How can we, as a community, help what's happening within our schools?”
And now Read Ready Kentucky has taken off—it’s a registered nonprofit organization that focuses on literacy and teaching children how use their skills to impact those around them. Read Ready Kentucky partnered with the Covington Police Department for Read with Covington PD, an event that distributed free books and activities to kids for the summer. The program also partnered with the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana to create a Read Ready Kentucky patch that is available to more than 20,000 Girl Scouts in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. Edelen hopes to create little libraries across the state of Kentucky.
“I have a great group of people who are also passionate about reading, and together we’ve done a lot of different things,” she says. “I'm just thankful to have a lot of people around me who believe in me and want to see my visions come to life.”
Those visions don’t end with her title. Edelen, who always enjoyed writing, completed her master’s in education policy and evaluation from the University of Kentucky and wanted to publish children’s books. So, Hank the Horse was born. “Hank the Horse and the Case of the Missing Eggs” is a book about information literacy, and it’s all about kids questioning what they hear.
“When you grow up in rural Kentucky and your internet access is limited, you find ways to keep yourself busy,” she says. “I loved writing short stories. I wanted to write a book, and I was actually inspired by the last election and how many people were accepting information as is but not really questioning it. I felt like that is such an important skill that we should be teaching kids—not to accept everything as fact.”
After the success of her first book, Edelen recently published a second one, “Hank the Horse and Kentucky Proud,” that was created in honor of her two nieces.
“My two nieces, Madelynn and Taylor, are my brother’s children, and I just love them so much. They're just so special to my life, and I wanted other kids—little farm kids—to feel represented in a children's book. So, in this book, they go on a journey and learn all about what Kentucky proud is.”
As her time as Miss Kentucky comes to an end this summer, Edelen looks forward to creating educational opportunities across the state—and eventually throughout the country—in any way that she can. That’s why, when she competed in the Miss America competition in December, she called her platform Read, Ready, America.
But her aspirations don’t end there. One day, she’d like to be the U.S. Secretary of Education.
“I'm hoping to take this experience and make it something bigger than just a sash and a crown,” she says. “This experience has shown me that I can contribute to this world. I'm thinking about myself as a contributor in this world, and how we all can be that—regardless of what your background looks like. We can make a meaningful impact, and as long as you're leading in an authentic and loving way, I think other people will see that, too.”