UNI student and Miss Iowa contender creates coloring book to raise environmental awareness

UNI student and Miss Iowa contender creates coloring book to raise environmental awareness

Anna Flanders /

Brittany Costello being crowned Miss Scott CountySince she was 8 years old, University of Northern Iowa student Brittany Costello has been competing in Miss America-affiliated competitions at the county and state level. These competitions have grown her confidence and communication skills as well as provided scholarships for her education. They’ve also given Costello, an environmental science major, a platform to advocate for the planet.

Although she has refined her social impact initiative over 13 years of competing, Costello has almost always had an environmental focus. Her current initiative as Miss Scott County 2022 is Watersheds: Think Global, Act Local. This campaign, which she promotes through social media and leading litter cleanups, stems from her dream of becoming a marine biologist.

“To come up with Watersheds: Think Global, Act Local, I started thinking more deeply about what I’m going to be doing with the rest of my life,” she explained. “I thought I could do an oceans initiative, but there aren't any oceans in Iowa. However, we’re affected by the ocean. So I started thinking in the realm of how we affect the ocean and how the ocean affects us, which led me to think about watersheds. Watersheds are everywhere. We’re literally sitting in a watershed right now, and Iowa is bordered by two large rivers. What we’re doing is also affecting people elsewhere. So we act local, and we think global.”

Costello will be focusing on this initiative as she competes for Miss Iowa 2023 in June. 

For the last year, Costello knew she wanted to work on a larger project to raise awareness for her watersheds initiative. After exploring ideas, she ultimately decided to create a watershed-themed coloring book.

Costello is accepting drawn submissions for the coloring book through her email. So far, she’s received self-portraits of young children recycling and more elaborate drawings of nature from older artists.

“I want this book to be filled with pictures from people all over the place of all ages,” she said. “I want to show how water is important to everyone in their own words and in their own drawings. Then I also want to obviously educate people by producing this coloring book and having different activities in it and short educational blurbs throughout.”

When the coloring book is complete, Costello plans to sell it on Amazon. Through the book, she hopes to raise money for the Iowa Environmental Council and the Partners of Scott County Watersheds. 

“I think having something fun, like a coloring book, is a really great way to advocate and educate about water quality,” she said. “It’s not just for kids. I think it’s fun for people of all ages, especially when the coloring pages are coming from people of all ages.”

Costello has been interested in the environment for as long as she can remember.

“My aunt was a veterinarian, so I think a lot of my interest stemmed from her,” she explained. “She’d always tell me stories about these random exotic animals that would come in. She’s also a big traveler, so she’s gone on safaris and all these crazy places.”

Coming soon...My new watershed coloring book is in the works!

Image courtesy of @missscottcounty2022ia

Costello’s interest in the environment grew further when she took a trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago as a sixth grader. She left the trip with the dream of becoming a marine biologist.

“I’d been there before, but that time I got to talk to the marine biologists,” she said. “Just talking to them about how they got to where they are started me toward an environmental science degree.”

Costello, a Clinton native, grew up visiting UNI for the Iowa Thespian Festival, an annual event for high school theatre students and teachers. The yearly visits made the campus feel like home and helped her decide to attend the university. 

When Costello first came to UNI, she was triple majoring. Brittany Costello holding a UNI flag

“I don’t suggest anyone do that,” she joked. She was taking 20 or more credits each semester for her first two years, majoring in environmental science, music composition and music performance. Eventually, Costello changed her music majors into a music minor while keeping environmental science with a life sciences emphasis as her major. She also added an earth science minor.

The decision has proven to be the perfect fit. One of her favorite assignments from her time at UNI is her class on mammalogy, which is the study of mammals. For the assignment, Costello put a trail camera outside her home in Clinton and tried to determine which bait would attract what mammal. 

“That was fun because we had hands-on experience of what a mammalogist would do,” she said.

As she gets ready to compete in Miss Iowa in June, Costello is prepping her interview skills and polishing her piano playing for the talent portion of the competition. She’s also focusing on savoring every moment of her last semester as she gets ready to graduate in May.

“I’m really excited for my classes. I know it’s still early in the semester, but I think I’ve already got a few favorites.”