Three queens and six princesses were crowned Sunday afternoon during the 59th annual Miss Poway Scholarship Pageant.
The 2023 queens are Miss Poway Karoshi Nanavati, Miss Teen Poway Rishika Kulkarni and Miss Junior Teen Poway Emma Polston.
“I could not hold back my tears,” said Nanavati when describing her reaction to being named Miss Poway.
Nanavati said for several moments after the announcement she “felt so much emotion. … I was floating … and feeling so much love for those who helped me get to where I am now.”
She said they include her parents, Vimal and Padmaja Nanavati of Poway.
Last year Nanavati was Miss Poway second princess. One of her community service activities was with the Jacobs & Cushman North County Food Bank, which she suggested for the 2022 court. While packing food for distribution the girls not only helped others but had an opportunity to bond, she said.
This was the third time Nanavati, 19, has competed for a title. As a 15-year-old she entered the Miss Teen Poway contest. While Nanavati did not place then, the experience put her on the path toward Sunday’s win, she said.
“I had just moved to Poway, was socially anxious and did not know a lot of friends,” she said.
She heard about the pageant as a student at Rancho Bernardo High, and decided to enter because “I felt it was a great opportunity for me. I really enjoyed it. Even though I did not win, it lit the spark for me. I wanted to be Miss Poway and it set me on my journey.”
She said the classes contestants take in topics such as public speaking, poise and interviewing, in addition to the community service activities, helped her overcome shyness and make friends. Those lessons continued last year when she made the court.
“I became a confident, poised young woman,” Nanavati said.
The 2021 RB High graduate is a second-year student at San Diego Miramar College. A biology major, she has a 4.0 GPA, made the Dean’s List and plans to transfer to UC San Diego after earning her associate’s degree. Her goal is to earn a Bachelor of Science in public health, then continue her education so she can be a physician associate who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology.
The career field is inspired by her parents — her father is a doctor and her mother a medical coder.
“For me, helping people and being an advocate for people who are suffering is why I want to work in the physician associate field,” she said. “They listen to patients’ concerns so the doctor can better diagnose and deliver patient care.”
Joining her on the Miss Poway court are First Princess Charlotte Dodds, a 16-year-old Rancho Bernardo High junior, and Second Princess Molly Shipman, an 18-year-old Rancho Bernardo High senior.
Miss Teen Poway Rishika Kulkarni, 16, is a 4S Ranch resident and junior at Francis Parker School. She is the daughter of Raghu and Menaka Kulkarni.
“It was super exciting and unexpected,” Kulkarni said of her win.
She is new to the pageant world. While preparing for the Miss Teen Poway competition Kulkarni also entered the Distinguished Young Women of San Diego County Pageant. On March 5, she was named the Distinguished Young Woman of Inland San Diego County and will compete this summer for the state title.
The two programs are vastly different in format, Kulkarni said. The Miss Poway pageant focuses on community service, while the DYW pageant has fitness and talent components in addition to the interview.
Kulkarni said she wanted to be on the Miss Poway court because of her long ties to the community. Until second grade her family lived in Sabre Springs, so she frequently was in Poway.
“I learned to read in its library and I learned to swim at Floaties, the center across from the library,” Kulkarni said. “The Poway community has shaped me to become who I am today.”
Kulkarni said she is looking forward to the community service activities, especially opportunities that bring awareness to mental health issues. For a National Honor Society project at school last year she promoted art activities that help relieve stress. That evolved into her founding the nonprofit organization Art4You that focuses on using creative art therapy.
A couple months ago she started volunteering in Sharp Hospital’s Arts for Healing Department.
“I’m a huge (mental health) advocate because I’ve seen people struggle, especially after the pandemic,” Kulkarni said.
Her favorite Miss Poway pageant activity was when each of the 22 contestants had to bring in an item that represents them or their interests. Kulkarni said she brought in a technical theater headset because she enjoys directing and stage managing productions at school, where she is the Drama Club secretary.
As for her career aspirations, Kulkarni said she would like to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. “I’ve been really interested in cardiology, enjoy dissecting and learning about the human body,” she said.
Joining her on the court are Miss Teen Poway First Princess Cozette Maeda, a 14-year-old homeschooled Poway resident, and Second Princess Makenna Topolovac, a 16-year-old Del Norte High sophomore.
The youngest queen is 11-year-old Emma Polston, who was crowned Miss Junior Teen Poway. The Twin Peaks Middle School sixth-grader is the daughter of Poway residents Nancy and Robert Polston.
Emma said her mother suggested she enter the pageant, something she was hesitant to do at first.
“I thought it was about looking pretty, but then realized it was more about friendships and confidence as a person rather than how you look,” Emma said.
After going through the classes on public speaking and completing service projects, Emma said she realized pageants can take her outside of her comfort zone and give her different perspectives on life.
“I figured out that I love pageants and did not know it until I started,” she said.
As for her reaction to being crowned, Emma said, “I was shocked … it felt like a dream and was amazing.”
Emma said she thinks her answer to the impromptu question asking about her message to the world put her on top.
“I said to never give up, don’t let what others say get in your head, be confident in yourself and you’ll have confidence in all you do.”
She is involved in theater productions at school and in the community. She has also been a background actress in shows that film in Los Angeles, including “Don’t Worry Darling,” the “iCarly” reboot, “Danger Force,” “LA’s Finest,” “Ballers” and “Raven’s Home.”
Joining Polston on the court are Miss Junior Teen Poway First Princess Karuna Kuruvadi, an 11-year-old Highland Ranch Elementary fifth-grader, and Second Princess Nisha Pandya, an 11-year-old Mesa Verde Middle School sixth-grader.