With an iPod touch device, they guided her through student-produced news stories, video and graphics. Gora even entered a "virtual village" of three of Muncie's most frequented bars and, with a click, peeked at their daily specials.
"That's so cool; look at that," Gora exclaimed. "Can you order?"
Yes. Had she been holding an iPhone, it could have dialed a bar's number.
Students, commerce and emerging media (such as iPhones) have moved to the forefront of Ball State's mission under Gora. The mix is already attracting corporate dollars to the university. But Gora dreams of even bigger things.
She wants Ball State students to start new businessesmuch like university students launched Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and other darlings of the emerging media industry.
Ball State is creating an incubator for student business projects in 3,000 square feet of unused space on the ground floor of the university's new Letterman media building.
"This is the future. This is the 21st century," Gora said. "We want students to be able to add value."
Universities' turning professors' ideas into businesses or products is nothing new. But more are now turning to students for the same purpose, said Jon Soderstrom, president of the Association of University Technology Managers.
"In the last five yearsand gee, that just happens to correspond with the successes of Google and Yahoo!is where people have really looked at this as an opportunity," said Soderstrom, managing director of Yale University's tech transfer office.
There can be money in these ventures, such as the hundreds of millions Stanford University made from its equity investment in Google. Stanford also receives more than $60 million in royalty payments from Google and lots of other companies that use intellectual assets developed at the school.
Ball State has a long way to go in commercializing technology as a revenue stream. Its Office of Technology Transfer recorded just $83,000 in revenue last year. That total is dwarfed even by Purdue University, which records $4 million a year in royalties paid by corporations to use its technology and patents.
Ball State recently proposed a change to its policy toward student entrepreneurs, increasing the percentage of revenue the school gets if a student uses significant university resources to create the company.
Soderstrom stressed that universities should not look to obtain direct revenue from student-launched companies, but to look for benefit from local economic development, partnerships with large corporations or down-the-road donations that could come from successful entrepreneurs.
Gora emphasized many of those other benefits when she announced $17.7 million in funding for the university's Emerging Media Initiative in December. The initiative aims to fund more research in emerging media, help faculty and students launch new businesses, and help Indiana companies improve their emerging media capabilities.
"It's really what should be happening in Indiana," she said.
Jobs, then entrepreneurship
Ball State students are eager for careers in emerging mediabut most are thinking about getting jobs, not launching their own companies. At least not right away.
"If I could do this and get paid to do it, it would be great," said Logan Braman, after showing off the interactive news program to Gora. Braman was one of 17 students who developed the program as part of a course called iMedia.
Some elite Ball State students already are getting paid to perform work with emerging media.
The Digital Corps currently includes 35 students who hold certifications in various software programs and get paid up to $10 an hour to do media- and Web-related projects.
Their clients include outside companies as well as Ball State professors and staff. Senior Jacob Barnard helped create a digital billboard for on-campus announcements that can be updated by anyone who knows how to use Microsoft Excel.
When asked about his career plans, Barnard, a telecommunications major, isn't picky: "Anything in programming." Senior Andy Kmiec, an English major, was one of six students who helped edit an independent feature film called "Fighter." They worked on the movie throughout 2008, including during the summer.
On Dec. 16, Digital Corps Director Jonathan Blake Huer helped the film's director negotiate a contract with a distribution company.
"I've been editing movies since I was in sixth grade," said Kmiec. But after experiencing the whole process, he'd like to do more of it.
Huer hopes to help Digital Corps students do that. He said he's trying to emphasize the entrepreneurial aspect of emerging media work.
For instance, next semester, he's going to walk the students through the "Fighter" distribution contract so they understand the nuts and bolts of the business, not just the creative aspects.
"I believe that, for better or for worse, the future is a portfolio-based income, not a single job," Huer wrote in an e-mail.
Huer's own portfolio includes producing an interactive movie called "Alternate Endings" and doing production work for the PBS documentary "Carrier."
Digital Corps students spoke with awe about one of their comrades, Dustin Sparks, who landed freelance work with a company during a corps field trip to an emerging media trade show in San Francisco.
"They offered me a job. They didn't realize I was still a student," said Sparks, a senior, declining to name the company he's working for.
Ball State also has attracted attention from companies. Students and professors are testing Surface, a Microsoft program that works through use of gestures rather than a keyboard or mouse. Apple has certified Digital Corps to run certified training courses in Muncie and in Indianapolis.
Also, The Nielsen Co. and AdWeek magazine have worked with Ball State to understand consumer use of emerging media.
Such contracts helped Ball State's Center for Media Design pull in $2.9 million in outside revenue last year.
Also partnering with Ball State is Schematic, a media production agency with its main offices in Los Angeles and New York. Its chief creative officer, Dale Herigstad, is trading his time to get access to Ball State students and research.
"We're looking five years ahead, 10 years ahead. The audience that will pay for that content are the students right now. [We like] being around that audience to sort of see where things are going," Herigstad said.
He especially liked what Gora found "so cool"the advertising Ball State students inserted in the "virtual village" of the interactive news program.
Previous efforts by iMedia students have given Ball State faculty material for academic journal articles and white papers for the emerging media industry, which is sometimes called Web 2.0.
"Nobody has the perfect business model for how Web 2.0 applications are going to make the next millionaire," said Dave Ferguson, Ball State's assistant vice president for emerging media. "It hasn't been invented yet. Maybe it could be invented here."