Topics: Administrative, Teachers College, College of Architecture and Planning, College of Communication Information and Media, College of Applied Sciences and Technology, College of Sciences and Humanities

May 20, 2011

Ball State~~~s seven 500 Festival Princesses pose in front of Beneficence with the Indianapolis 500 pace car. The women were visting campus with Ball State Trustee Frank Hancock, a board member for the 500 Festival.
Before she became a 500 Festival Princess, Ball State University student Laken Kurtz had no idea how much tradition and spirit were tied up in the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Nor did she realize the influence the 500 Festival Princess Program had on communities statewide.

"The first thing I tell people is that, as princesses, we are goodwill ambassadors promoting the festival," said Kurtz, a member of the 2011 Princess Court. "Yes, we get to ride in the parade, but there is so much more to being a part of the program than that."

In the weeks leading up to the Indianapolis 500 on May 29, Kurtz and the 500 Festival's other 32 princesses are actively involved in outreach opportunities in cities and towns across the state. A native of Muncie, Kurtz's community involvement has included working with the city's local soup kitchens, food banks, shelters, after-school programs and Habitat for Humanity chapter. An elementary education major, she also is giving back to the Muncie Community Schools system, visiting local elementary schools to educate them on the festival in addition to attending tutoring sessions and literacy events.

"Seeing the look on people's faces when I am there makes it all worth it," said Kurtz, '11 said.

Ball State has seven students and recent graduates participating as princesses in the 2011 500 Festival Princess Program, a record number for the university, said Frank Hancock, a Ball State trustee now entering his fifth year as a board member for the 500 Festival.  Kurtz's fellow princesses from Ball State are Ashlyn Ackerman, '11, Jasper, majoring in architecture; Erin Drew, '13, Carmel, majoring in nursing; Katie Hargitt, '13, Indianapolis, majoring in telecommunications; Fayeann Hurley, '13, Brownstown, majoring in nursing; Tarah Miller, '11, Alexandria, majoring in psychological science and interpersonal relations; and Savannah Teegarden, '11, Anderson, majoring in telecommunications.

"This is a great group of young women — all of them are solid students," he said. "They're outgoing, and they do a lot of good for their communities through this program."

This year's princesses represent 11 Hoosier colleges and universities from 24 cities and towns across Indiana. The 33 princesses — the same number of drivers in this year's race — were selected from 278 applicants based on their communication skills, poise, academic performance and volunteer involvement.

Kurtz said being a princess has been "an amazing opportunity," all the more so given this year is the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500.

"I get goose bumps every time I pull up to the track," she said. "All of the history in that place is magical to experience. I'm now an even bigger fan of racing and have found my new favorite driver, Graham Rahal. He's awesome!"