The month of May is iconic in Indianapolis. From the Grand Prix, to the 500 Festival and finally the Indianapolis 500, the Circle City is the place to be, and IUPUI students were in the middle of it all.
Twelve students are a part of this year’s Event Social Media Team, including senior Jessica Boren, who is majoring in Communications Studies at the School of Liberal Arts. This is her first year with the team, whose work started with events for the Grand Prix.
The Event Social Media Team focused on helping manage operations and fan engagement through various social platforms. That included using the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Instagram and Twitter accounts to answer questions and connect with fans.
“When we got there, we logged into the IMS social media. IMS’s Instagram and Twitter have over 200,000 followers on each platform, and I was running it!” said Boren. “That felt so bizarre to me, and it was such a cool experience.”
Erica Shonkwiler, a professor in IUPUI’s Tourism, Event, and Sports Management Department, leads the Event Social Media Team. The Indy 500 and surrounding events are opportunities Shonkwiler has been giving students for seven years. It’s all with the goal to give students real-world experience.
“We are combing Twitter, using geotags, hashtags, mentions, we’re looking all across Facebook and Instagram for anybody who is posting content related to the race or the event,” explained Shonkwiler. “We’re thanking [the fans] for being there, congratulating them on 30 years of family traditions and just showing that gratitude and appreciation to build that brand relationship with them.”
Customer service and fan engagement are their main priorities, but sometimes just being present leads team members to bonus opportunities. During the 500 Festival Parade, Boren and another student, T’Audra McGhee, got asked to help call the parade when two of the original announcers were out with COVID-19.
“We both got on this really tall platform, we had our mics in front of us and we announced the entire 80-page script for our entire street section of the parade,” said Boren.
“It’s one of those situations I can’t wait to put on my résumé … I was just happy I was in the right place at the right time because that was such a great opportunity. I got so far out of my comfort zone, but in a really good way.”
On race day, the team continued to be involved in the action. Team members were given all-access media passes so they could use the media center and even get down to the track level. During the race, they were part of using the IMS’s social media accounts and even IMS President Doug Boles’ accounts to address issues and connect with fans.
“Before going into this, I never really was much of a race fan, but I fell in love with it,” said Boren. “Everyone was so happy to be there and the energy was unmatched. That’s definitely what I want in my future—having good energy, good vibes and just being there making someone’s day.”
The experience is something Boren says changed her career path. When she came to IUPUI, she was planning to major in civic leadership and become a politician. Now, she is a senior studying communications and looking to do more in sports.
“From this internship, I definitely want to go into sports marketing. My biggest takeaway is wanting to change what I want to do after graduation,” said Boren.
Shonkwiler looks forward to growing the team. Each January and February, she recruits students from all different ages and programs across campus.
“This year, I had someone out there who was a philanthropy major, multiple marketing majors from Kelley, communications majors, PR majors, journalism majors, event management majors, and sports management majors, so I had a really diverse group of interests,” said Shonkwiler
Students on the Event Social Media Team get paid for their hours in the form of a scholarship, but it’s the real world experience and career connections that pay off the most.
“We’ve had students that have gotten jobs from being on this team. Of course coupled with their degrees, with their studies and skills they have built within their majors, but having that real world experience sets them apart from others that they were competing for jobs with,” said Shonkwiler.
The Event Social Media Team continues to be busy. It will help the IMS again during the Brickyard 400 and will have additional Indianapolis events to work throughout the fall.
“By being on this team and having it on my résumé already, I’m going to be able to talk about it in interviews. It’s just so worth it and so fun too,” said Boren.