Kelley senior named a 2017 500 Festival Princess

INDIANAPOLIS – A Kelley School of Business senior at IUPUI has been named a 500 Festival princess in 2017.

Ashley Spears, BS’17, is majoring in human resource management and management. A graduate of Mt. Vernon High School, Spears is one of 33 college-aged women selected from more than 200 talented women who applied for the prestigious, annual program.

According to the 500 Festival website, the 2017 princesses represent 13 Indiana colleges and 22 cities and towns across the state. They have a cumulative GPA of 3.7 and “were selected based on communication skills, academic performance and community involvement.” In addition to serving as ambassadors for the 500 Festival and the state of Indiana, the princesses each receive a $1,000 scholarship.

When asked why she applied to the program, Spears says she wants to make an impact within her community.

My passion is to motivate and inspire everyone to cultivate their gifts and talents - and to pursue their dreams.

Ashley Spears, IU Kelley School of Business senior, 2017 500 Festival Princess

“I especially hope to positively impact the lives of young women —and all individuals—living in low-income neighborhoods.”

As part of the program, the 500 Festival Princesses are involved in personal, statewide outreach. They each plan, organize and implement four volunteer events throughout the community, while also participating in multiple other events. Spears’ first personal outreach focused on Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center, a center located on the near southwest side of Indianapolis. Her second outreach is at St. Mary’s Child Center, a non-profit that offers “early childhood initiatives to positively impact the futures of young children.”

Spears and youth involved in a 500 Festival Study Trip stop for a photo in front of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Panasonic Pagoda at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 7, 2017.

“The center’s mission is to serve preschool children whose families live in poverty,” explained Ashley. “They hope to propel these students to success – and so do I. Spending time with these children at St. Mary’s Child Center is incredibly rewarding. It means a lot to be able to grow and learn from each conversation I have. We even taught them a little bit about racecars, and we hope to inspire them for the future. This entire experience has truly been the greatest thing to ever happen to me.”

In the past two months alone, Spears has volunteered at dozens of events throughout the community.

Clockwise: Spears stops for a photo with Van Buren Elementary students after a 500 Festival Mobile Trip; Spears spending time with kids at St. Mary's Child Center; Spears and fellow princesses Amanda Hawkins and Samatha Mitchell serve a meal at Mary Riggs Neighborhood Center. Courtesy: Ashley Spears

The princesses also develop key leadership and professional skills throughout the program, by participating in its personal and professional develop initiative. Each princess is also paired with a professional mentor through the 500 Festival Board of Directors.

“This program has already helped me with my confidence and communication skills,” said Spears. “I’ve had networking opportunities I never would have had otherwise, and I’ve also developed lasting friendships with other like-minded women.”

Before she was accepted into the program, Spears was involved with the American Red Cross as a disaster action team volunteer. She helped in Kokomo after the tornadoes there.

“For other students looking to succeed in leadership roles in the future, I recommend they get involved with their community through leadership or volunteer roles,” said Spears.

“I received some good advice from Indianapolis civic leader Rebecca King, who came and spoke with the princesses. She told us to make sure you can be fully involved in your commitments. She recommended not to say yes to commitments you don’t fully believe you can devote the time to. Instead, offer one of your contacts you believe may be able to give more time. By not giving an organization 100 percent of your time, you’re creating a deficit for the ones who follow in your footsteps of your position.”

As a Kelley senior graduating in December, Spears says her “Kelley moment” was in professor Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow’s Effective Negotiations course.

“I feel like those classes prepared me for the world after college,” said Spears. “The course gave me the confidence boost needed to be out in the business world today.”

For other students, Spears passes along advice she heard from civic leader Zachary Scott, who is a member of the 500 Festival Board of Directors.

“He told us, ‘If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing,’” explained Spears.

“When I think back to my proudest moments, I realize it was in those moments I often was nervous and apprehensive, taking a chance, not knowing if I would fail. Those were the moments I grew the most, and the moments that shaped me into the person I am today.”

2017 500 Festival Princesses. Courtesy: 500 Festival

“I encourage students to take every opportunity, to ask questions and to go for it. Make it a priority to be heard and make the people you are speaking with remember you. Don’t be afraid to ask for a coffee meeting with someone. Those connections will help you grow and make you who you are. I say—just go for it.”

2017 500 Festival Princesses. Courtesy: Ashley Spears