When it comes to community involvement, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis' Amna Sohail says it's about quality, not quantity. It's not clear if the senior has actually taken her own advice, though. Sohail is one of 33 college-aged women statewide named a 500 Festival Princess this spring in recognition of excellence in academics, leadership and civic engagement.
The 500 Festival started the 2017 season with 264 applicants for the Princess Program. During multiple rounds of interviews, a panel questioned the potential princesses about, among other things, the impact they could make on their community. In the end, 33 were chosen, including 14 from the IU campus system.
IUPUI students joining Sohail in the 2017 500 Festival Princess Program are:
- Lore'al Avery, junior, University College.
- Shivani Bajpai, senior, School of Science and Honors College.
- Sam Mitchell, sophomore, School of Liberal Arts.
- Jamie Rehm, junior, School of Nursing.
- Ali Sparkman, junior, School of Physical Education and Tourism Management.
- Ashley Spears, senior, Kelley School of Business.
IU Bloomington students earned six spots:
- Katherine Cole, senior, College of Arts and Sciences.
- Jessica de la Cruz, senior, College of Arts and Sciences.
- Anna Marie Farlow, senior, College of Arts and Sciences and Hutton Honors College.
- Destiny Hibbs, senior, College of Arts and Sciences.
- Lauren Lowry, senior, Kelley School of Business and Hutton Honors College.
- Emily Weiss, senior, School of Public Health and Hutton Honors College.
Kayla Meeks, a junior in the nursing program, is representing IU Kokomo.
As part of the Princess Program, Sohail takes part in various leadership and professional-development opportunities. The mentorship portion of the program, which pairs a member of the 500 Festival's board of directors with each participant, allowed her to meet with Marlyne Sexton, a vital member of the Indianapolis business and philanthropic communities.
"You wouldn't get to meet these types of people normally," Sohail said. "Having the opportunity to meet with people you normally wouldn't -- who are really established in their careers, who have done great things and continue to make a positive impact in their communities -- is phenomenal."
Making a positive impact has become an important part of Sohail's ambition, in part because of her campus involvement. In her four years at IUPUI, she has traveled to Panama with the Global Medical Brigades, taught other students about financial wellness with the Peer Educators program for the Division of Student Affairs' Health and Wellness Promotion, and currently serves as president of the Student United Way.
"I also served this year as a committee member of the IUPUI United Way campaign," Sohail said. "Through my campaign involvement, I collected student testimonials on how United Way has impacted them, and I co-developed a digital story called "Jags Living United" that was shown at the IUPUI United Way Day of Caring."
As a Sam H. Jones Community Service Scholar last year, she interned at the Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center, where she helped people obtain jobs. This year, she's a Community Service Leader Scholar in the program, mentoring peers through professional-development, leadership and civic-mindedness training.
And now as a 500 Festival Princess, Sohail's reach is even greater.
"Not only do we help out with the 500 Festival events and the pre-race ceremonies with the Indianapolis 500, but we also plan our own outreaches. I think it's one of the reasons I wanted to be a part of this program. It provides you with a platform to think about the causes that you care about and actually do something about it in the community, and have it be a collective action from 33 different princesses," said Sohail, who was born in Pakistan but moved to Lawrence as a toddler.
"For me, it's been really important to make an impact on the community," she said. "I'm passionate about community development, especially. The biggest thing is that the 500 Festival touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, especially in the months leading up to May. Having the opportunity to engage positively with all of those individuals and to shape an experience that is really life-enriching for them is, honestly, one of the most rewarding aspects of this Princess Program on a personal level."
Sohail will graduate May 14 with a degree in chemistry from the School of Science. And as a Chancellor's Scholar in the Honors College, she obviously has some impressive academic credentials. It has become increasingly clear, however, that she may have truly found her niche in making a meaningful impact serving the community. She hopes others can do the same.
"Be open to any experience that you think could really optimize your learning," Sohail advises those following her at IUPUI. "Look for experiences where you're learning something and try it out, especially if you're a first-year or even a second-year student. Try those experiences, and if they don't work out, that's fine. But if it does work out and you do learn something from it, you can keep adding onto that by staying engaged."
And like she said, "I think it's quality, not quantity, that really matters."
About the 500 Festival
Founded in 1957, the 500 Festival is a not-for-profit organization that produces more than 50 life-enriching events and programs that celebrate the spirit and legacy of the Indianapolis 500 and foster positive impact on the city of Indianapolis and state of Indiana. One of the largest festivals in the nation, each year the 500 Festival has more than half a million people attend an event or program it produced. Since its founding, the 500 Festival has contributed more than $400 million in economic value to Indianapolis. Learn more about the 500 Festival online.