Barrett student Iya Agha wins Miss Arab USA pageant
Iya Agha’s ambition is to be a physician and role model for young women of Arabic descent.
“Growing up, besides the people in my family, there were not a lot of Arab women that I could look up to,” said Agha, an Arizona State University Barrett Honors College student majoring in English literature with a biological sciences minor and a certificate in Arabic. “I want to be able to teach people about how amazing the Arab culture really is.”
Agha, who is of Iraqi heritage, will get the chance to share her culture as the 2019 Miss Arab USA. She won the title earlier this month in a pageant at the Tempe Center for the Arts.
“It was probably one of the craziest and most amazing experiences I have ever had, being able to step out of my comfort zone and meet all of the other incredible girls there,” she said. “It was amazing how close I got to so many of the girls and I know that I will cherish their friendships and the memories I made with them forever.”
Agha found out about the Miss Arab Pageant through her Arabic class at ASU. Until now, she had never participated in a pageant. She found that this competition was different from other pageants.
The contestants were judged on how educated, confident, proud and knowledgeable they are about their Arab community. Agha said that there are many misconceptions about Arabs that often times overshadow how beautiful, unique and rich their culture really is.
“Previous queens have worked with displaced women and children, refugees, orphans and homeless people around the country,” she said. “In addition to following their footsteps, I want to be someone that other little Arab children can look up to and help them see that they have the opportunity to be and do anything they have ever wanted, as long as they put their mind to it.”
Agha said she is a major book nerd and loves reading, so she chose a major in the humanities. Her ambition to be a physician is rooted in her desire to help people and the example set by her father, an interventional radiologist, so she is on the pre-med track.
“I remember being probably about five years old and watching my father read CT and MRI scans and just begging him to teach me how to read them,” she said.
She has already started applying to medical schools, with an interest in both doctor of osteopathy and medical doctor (DO and MD) programs.
“I think that if I had to choose right now what my specialty would be I would pick plastic surgery,” Agha said, “but whatever type of physician I end up being my main focus will be to make people feel comfortable around me so that I have the opportunity to help them the best way possible.”
Agha was born in in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her family moved around a lot in her early years when her father was finishing medical school and gaining clinical experience. Eventually, they settled in Scottsdale, where Agha said she spent most of her life.
When applying to various colleges, Agha said she always thought she would want to go out of state and study in California. However, after touring ASU and the other colleges that accepted her, she felt overwhelmingly like Barrett was where she belonged.
“I think that Barrett is such an incredible place because you get to be at one of the largest universities in the country but you also get to have a close community of people through Barrett,” she said. “Barrett is the kind of school that makes you feel at home when you are there. I had friends from my high school that applied and went to Barrett so I knew a lot about it.”
Agha said that she is grateful to the people she has met at Barrett. Thanks to Barrett, Agha said she has realized how much she is capable of by always challenging herself to be better than she was before.
“I just always like to remind myself that I can do it,” Agha said. “I am a big believer in putting good things out into the universe in order to make them happen, so I always try to talk positively to myself! That is something my mom always taught me.”
Story by Ranjani Venkatakrishnan, a Barrett Honors College student majoring in journalism.