Morgan Nelson and Luci Woodrum educate Maple Grove Students about Indy 500 flags on March 1. Submitted photo

Two Johnson County women hope to inspire young girls through their roles as Indy 500 Festival Princesses.

The 500 Festival Princess Program, presented by The National Bank of Indianapolis, recognizes Indiana’s most community-oriented and academically accomplished young women. Hundreds of young women compete for a spot in the program but only 33 are selected annually. The criteria to participate in the program include great communication skills, strong academic performance, community involvement and commitment to service and leadership.

Morgan Nelson, a senior in biomedical sciences at Franklin College, and Luci Woodrum, an Indian Creek graduate who now attends Marian University, hope to inspire other young women through their roles as Festival Princesses. The women say they’ve had a lot of fun this year being ambassadors for the 500 Festival, their hometowns and their schools.

Nelson attributes her desire to apply for the role to her grandmother Verna, who always encouraged her to try new things, she said.

“She unfortunately passed away before I was able to give the announcement that I was named a princess,” Nelson said. “I was just like, this is what she wanted for me and now I feel more connected to her and other members of my family that wanted this for me.”

Through the program, Nelson has been back to her hometown of Marion to teach students about science and STEM. As a science major, she makes it a point to remind students that there’s a place in the science field for everyone. Nelson was craving a feeling of “connectedness” when she applied for the program after starting college during COVID-19. The program has helped her feel “more at home” by connecting her with local organizations and 32 new friends, she said.

Growing up, it was a rarity for Nelson to see female scientists and doctors, with the exception of Grey’s Anatomy, she joked. She didn’t think she could become a scientist, she said. She was told that it wasn’t something she should do and the field was for men, she said.

“I think that it’s really important to show young kids that you can dream those dreams even if someone tells you that you shouldn’t,” Nelson said.

Both Woodrum and Nelson have participated in community events across Johnson County, including partnering with Girls, Inc, a girl’s leadership organization, for a STEM Day where students combined ingredients to make a foaming chemical reaction called elephant toothpaste.

Woodrum, a Morgantown resident and junior at Marian University, was walking to track practice when she received the email congratulating her on her acceptance as a princess, she recalled. She had to sit down at a picnic table to shakily open the email and instantly shed tears of joy, she said. Woodrum has a passion for empowering young women and reaching people in her community, which made the acceptance extra exciting, she said.

“I am just so excited to empower all the young women in my community and give them hope that no matter where they come from, or no matter what they’ve been involved in in the past, they can put themselves in any type of situation and they can really just make the most out of it,” Woodrum said.

Her passion for empowering women comes from experience, she said. Growing up, Woodrum struggled with feelings of inadequacy and living up to others’ expectations. Those struggles kept her from growing as much as she could have, she said.

Now, Woodrum wants young girls to change their mindsets and know that it’s okay to fail and that learning from the experience is what’s important.