Indianapolis Satisfies Students with Wide Ranges of Interests
Indianapolis is an ideal student destination. The pedestrian-friendly city offers a variety of attractions—most of which are within walking distance of hotels—covering subjects such as biology, botany, agriculture, history, fitness, art, culture and engineering.
Explore the Sciences Hands-On
Located in downtown’s White River State Park, the Indianapolis Zoo is triple-accredited as a zoo, aquarium and botanical garden. I was astounded by the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, which features high perches and ropes to simulate tall trees for the orangutans to climb, complete with a gondola lift that takes you up to the apes’ eye-level. Inside the center, your students can see groundbreaking research where orangutans learn various symbols, and you can take a “selfie” with an orangutan—he will recognize himself! Students of all ages will love the zoo’s underwater tunnel with dolphins swimming and playing all around them, and will be impressed by the exciting and educational dolphin show.
At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, your students will see, touch and even get behind the wheel as they take in a century of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall Of Fame Museum, which showcases a wide range of historic race cars, including past winners of the Indianapolis 500. A group favorite is a grounds tour of the museum, track, Media Center, Pagoda, Victory Podium, garage area, Gasoline Alley Suite and the famous “Yard of Bricks” at the start/finish line. Just down the road is the Dallara IndyCar Factory where the IndyCars are assembled. Learn all about the physics and engineering of racing through hands-on exhibits and driving simulators. If simulators aren’t enough for the daredevils in your group, it is possible for guests to take a spin in a real Indy race car with a professional driver.
At the Indiana Medical History Museum, learn about the beginnings of scientific psychiatry and see the oldest pathology laboratory in the nation. The guided tour gives insight on how doctors in the late 1800s and early 1900s explored mental illness through clinical labs, autopsies and analysis.
Discover Art and Culture
The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) spans 152 acres of gardens and grounds and is among the 10 largest encyclopedic art museums in the United States. IMA features African, American, Asian, European and contemporary art, as well as a newly established collection of design arts. The museum utilizes a lot of interactive technology, such as audio tours, videos explaining certain pieces, and even iPads for further information and guidance. If you head outside the museum walls, your students will find gardens designed in the 1920s, historic estates and a playground made solely of wood from Indiana’s state tree. All The Fault in Our Stars fans will be thrilled to see the “funky bones,” made famous by the best-selling novel and blockbuster movie. Group tours can be guided or self-guided and can encompass both the gardens and museum.
The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is an eight-mile urban bike and pedestrian path in downtown Indianapolis. I ventured via bike on many parts of this trail with ActiveIndy Tours, and my guide, Nathan Smurdon, was extremely knowledgeable and fun, asking me trick questions and keeping me on the edge of my bike seat. We rode beneath skyscrapers, through parks and alongside the canal, making frequent stops to learn about historical places and homes, monuments and memorials, and pieces of art and culture. Any tour with ActiveIndy is an ideal way to get your students outside and moving while sightseeing and learning. The historic Central Canal runs through downtown’s White River State Park and is a part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Your group can rent kayaks, paddleboats or take Segway tours along the canal. You can also use the canal as a guide, as it runs along the backside of museums and borders monuments and memorials.
Experience Living History
History comes to life at the Indiana State Museum, the official collector and story-teller of Indiana’s history, culture, science and art with permanent and rotating exhibits and customizable student programs. Its IMAX Theater features 3-D educational movies on a six-story screen. Your students can meet and converse with real-life-characters including Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Elizabeth Keckley, Levi Coffin and Rosa Parks. An exciting stage performance of a 1950s radio show features time-appropriate commercials, music and even a customized script starring your students.
Indianapolis devotes more acreage to honoring veterans than any other city; it’s second to D.C. in its number of war memorials. Indiana World War Memorial Plaza showcases a number of World War I memorials. Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial sits on the canal and pays homage to more than 3,400 recipients of the Medal of Honor. The USS Indianapolis Memorial, also located on the canal, recognizes those who died during the ship’s sinking. About a half-mile down the canal sits the 9/11 Memorial, which is made of two beams from the Twin Towers; atop one of the beams is an American Bald Eagle sculpture with wings outstretched toward New York City. In the center of Indianapolis sits Monument Circle, home to the Soldiers & Sailors Monument towering 284 feet and honoring Hoosiers who served in the military. The Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum is located within the monument.
Rumor has it that history actually lives in Slippery Noodle Inn today in the form of ghosts. Established in 1850, the oldest bar in Indiana isn’t your average historic bar—it sold whiskey during the Prohibition; it was a hangout spot for Brady and Dillinger gangs; an Underground Railroad stop; a brothel until 1954; and, in more recent history, Peyton Manning’s go-to place after Sunday night football games. Sightings of a woman in blue and a large male slave are common among locals and visitors who had no knowledge of any hauntings, and I personally felt some unease in the basement during the tour! History lessons aside, Slippery Noodle is also a group-friendly spot for lunch.
Calling all Student-Athletes and Student-Performers
Inspire the student-athletes and sports fans in your group at the NCAA Hall of Champions, also home to NCAA Headquarters. Learn how the NCAA got started in the first place in 1906, thanks to the flying wedge and the death of more than a dozen young men in one football season in 1905. Explore each NCAA sport’s touchscreen that contains history, current and past rosters, facts, trivia, rankings, multimedia (I saw a video clip of football dating back to 1903), champions and all NCAA teams. There are also interactive exhibits throughout the hall where you can test your skills in soccer, football, golf, basketball, tennis and more. Cheer on the minor league Indianapolis Indians at Victory Field or bat and run the bases during the off season. Catch an Indianapolis Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium or tour the site of Superbowl XLVI, including locker rooms, the media center and even step foot on the best field in the NFL.
Performance groups can entertain at various points in the city. The Indianapolis Artsgarden is a glass-domed facility suspended over a busy downtown intersection, perfectly suited for student choirs, concert bands, jazz bands and others. Indianapolis City Market, also located downtown, is a historic structure home to food stands, dining, farmers markets and shopping. Student groups can perform for the lunch and nightlife crowds (indoor and outdoor opportunities) and then enjoy the market atmosphere. The stage at the Indiana State Museum isn’t just for 1950s radio shows; your students can perform in the 240-capacity Dean and Barbara White Auditorium, equipped with built-in audio/visual equipment.