Topics: Building Better Communities, Immersive Learning, College of Communication Information and Media, Miller College of Business

December 5, 2007

Ball State University students are developing a sophisticated marketing plan for the Indiana Transportation Museum by linking the present to a bygone era known for a train whistle, the clickety-clack of a passing railroad car and the "all aboard" call of a conductor.

Through the university's Business Fellows initiative, Ball State journalism faculty members Dick Shoemaker and Ken Heinen are mentoring 14 students as they incorporate the feel of riding the rails into a redesigned interactive Web site for the rail transportation museum, featuring videos and an extensive online photo catalog.

"The only way to appreciate a railroad museum is to experience a train ride," Heinen said. "You feel the engine move the train, you hear the sounds the cars make and you smell the locomotive as it glides through the countryside or city.

"We are trying to bring that experience to the Web site and incorporate it into other multimedia avenues to reach out to a tremendous audience," he said. "The majority of Americans have never ridden a train. But the museum has the potential to bring that experience to thousands of people who live within a short drive."

The Indiana Transportation Museum, operating out of Forest Park in Noblesville, is a volunteer-operated, nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve Indiana's railroad history, educate the public in the history of the railroad and provide the experience of railroad travel as it used to be. Visitors can ride on tracks once used by the Indianapolis and Peru Railroad Co., and more recently, the Nickel Plate Road.

Throughout the school year, the Ball State students will regularly travel to the museum to shoot videos and still photos as well as interact with the organization's many volunteers in a comprehensive effort to create new brochures, produce new revenue streams and introduce new generations to trains.

The key to collecting the information is sitting down to listen to and work with the museum's volunteers, said Noblesville resident Shoemaker. The team also has surveyed museum train riders at state fair time.

"I think our Business Fellows have already learned a great deal about the dedication of the volunteers," Shoemaker said. "Many of these men are in their 60s and older, and they are very emotional and passionate about the railroad industry. You can't learn that in a class because it can't be taught by just showing a video or reading from a book. This is something that has to be experienced firsthand."

Under the guidance of Heinen, a former Washington Star staff photographer and active member of Washington's press corps for 34 years, students also are collecting photos for a digital online catalog of rail equipment and local communities to be used to entice the movie industry to central Indiana.

In the end, the cost of the project should be about $35,000 — a tremendous value for the museum. This includes a "Railroading 101," a new program incorporates an electronically based volunteer recruiting and training program.

"We want to assist the museum in attracting a younger group of riders," Shoemaker said. "Right now, the museum is working toward adding track and a new bridge so it can become a passenger system again as Indianapolis grows north. It will be able to play a greater role in area tourism and recreation."

Art Hall, board chair of the Indiana Transportation Museum, said he and other volunteers were impressed with the Ball State student group.

"Since the project started in August with an initial rider survey and photography team, we've been impressed with the energy these students have," Hall said. "They understand the issues and our goals.

"We really appreciate what Ball State and the Business Fellows program is doing for us," said. "They're providing us things that, as a volunteer organization, we couldn't do. They are playing a key part in planning for our success in the future."

About Business Fellows and Building Better Communities

Business Fellows, coordinated by Ball State's Career Center and funded by a $1.5 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., gives Ball State students the opportunity to turn academic knowledge into business solutions through intense, semester-long applied work experiences that will benefit an Indiana business, industry or organization. The program works in concert with Ball State's Building Better Communities initiative.

Building Better Communities is a university-wide initiative designed to spur economic development and quality-of-life advancement in Indiana by extending Ball State's strengths in applied research and hands-on learning to community projects across the state. Building Better Communities works to match the university's expertise and resources to the varied needs of Indiana communities.