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Building Community and Inspiring Change: Meet 500 Festival Princess, Caitlyn Cook ‘24 (Public Health Education & Promotion)

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Each year, the 500 Festival Princess Program selects 33 of Indiana’s most civic-minded, academically-driven young women to serve as ambassadors of the 500 Festival, their hometowns, and their colleges and universities. The 500 Festival Princesses exemplify the community spirit that lies at the heart of May in Indiana, and this year’s princess from the University of Indianapolis, Caitlyn Cook, is no exception. 

Caitlyn’s love for her community has influenced many of her major life decisions so far, including choosing to attend UIndy and pursue her degree in public health education and promotion. While she originally planned to join UIndy’s occupational therapy program, Caitlyn came to realize that she preferred to work with populations rather than individuals, which led her to the public health program.

“I love and appreciate public health because it’s part of the community,” said Caitlyn. “And how cool is it that, as a career, you can plan fun events that bring the community together?”

As part of the public health program’s curriculum, students have the opportunity to participate in several service-learning projects with local nonprofit organizations. Through these opportunities, Caitlyn was able to work with Resources of Hope, Special Olympics Indiana, and Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. 

“I was actually able to be a part of the course that organized the Special Olympics Indiana State Basketball Youth Tournament a couple years ago,” explained Caitlyn. “That opened up the door for me to meet the incredible people who work with Special Olympics Indiana and ultimately land an internship with them. So it all kind of fell into place.”

Caitlyn Cook at Special Olympics Indiana Polar Plunge 2024

With such passion for helping and connecting with others, Caitlyn’s selection as a 500 Festival Princess seemed inevitable. After her grandfather recommended she apply, Caitlyn took the plunge and submitted her application. As part of the process, Caitlyn went through two rounds of interviews with the selection committee. While interviewing is nerve-wracking in general, Caitlyn walked in with confidence, thanks to her preparation with her career coach, Stephanie Kendall-Deitz, from the Stephen F. Fry Professional Edge Center

“The ProEdge Center has always been great,” said Caitlyn. “I knew that I had to interview, so I worked with Stephanie to prepare. A lot of the interview questions were kind of job-related questions, so the ProEdge Center definitely helped me prepare for this experience.”

Caitlyn also found support from last year’s 500 Festival princess, Shylah Beauchamp-Potts, who was in her senior year as a nursing student at UIndy. While they were from different programs, Caitlyn and Shylah were able to connect easily through friends, another bonus of the small community of UIndy. 

“When I decided to apply to the program, I immediately reached out to Shylah to tell her I was interested and would like to get her perspective,” recalled Caitlyn. “She was wonderful. She helped me out so much and told me a bit of what to expect so that I didn’t have to go in completely blind.”

Part of the 500 Festival Princess Program includes participating in community outreaches. Caitlyn was able to invite her fellow princesses to Special Olympics Indiana’s polar plunge event as well as her hometown’s elementary school Spring Fling and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’s Speed Fest. At each event, the princesses helped the community get into the spirit of May as well as inspire future generations of 500 Festival princesses.

Group photo of 500 Festival Princesses with mascot Freddy Fever

“It was really cool seeing people recognize us in the community and to be able to inform Indiana’s youth on the steps to becoming a 500 Festival Princess and the impact that it makes,” said Caitlyn.

Through the 500 Festival Princess Program, Caitlyn has found new connections to her community and a supportive sisterhood that extends beyond the month of May. 

“My favorite part of the program so far is definitely experiencing it with 32 other accomplished women,” said Caitlyn. “We all went into it kind of not sure what to expect, so we were all in the same boat. They’re all so supportive of everything, even if it’s not princess-related.”