Picture this: Ag sciences student goes inside the White House Photography Office

Rachel Robbins, a junior in the College of Agricultural Sciences, parlayed her interests in government, history and photography into a rare experience at the White House last semester. The community, environment and development major spent the fall of 2014 hanging out with the president's pooches, documenting unpublished photographs of the Obama administration and rubbing shoulders with White House staff and politicians alike.

But Robbins' success story was preceded by careful planning and hard work. Last year, she applied for Penn State's Washington Program, an undergraduate opportunity offered through the College of Communications. The program selects a small number of juniors and seniors to spend a semester in Washington, D.C., where they are housed in apartments owned by Penn State.

While there, they have the opportunity to take classes taught by Penn State faculty and are encouraged to find an internship in Washington that corresponds to their career goals.

For Robbins, being accepted into the Washington Program was a dream come true. "I love Washington, D.C., and have always wanted to live there. Even if I didn't score a great internship, I knew just being in the epicenter of our country's political scene would be a great experience," the Pittsburgh native said.

Robbins took a chance and applied to intern at the White House through a leadership initiative for young men and women called The White House Internship Program. Once she was accepted, she was placed in the White House's photography office because of her interests and prior experience with photography.

"The Photo Office was perfect for me. The staff there photographs the administration, documenting history," she explained.

Robbins in White House

The Photography Office was perfect for her, said Robbins, a Pittsburgh native. She assisted the staff photographing the administration, documenting history.

Image: Penn State

In a typical 9-to-5 day, Robbins sorted through hundreds of behind-the-scenes, unpublished photographs of the Obama administration. She color-corrected the images, organized them for historical documentation and distributed them to staff members upon request. Every two weeks, she carried jumbo-sized photographs to the halls of the West Wing and placed them in picture frames, removing the previous weeks' pictures.

"This was my favorite task," she said. "I got the chance to interact with staff members, including the chief of staff, as they stopped to check out the new photos.

Robbins learned a lot from the senior photographers, who made her feel important and respected. They sometimes allowed her to accompany them on photo shoots, which gave her some hands-on experience working with the camera.

Occasionally, Robbins took part in volunteer opportunities offered by the internship program. She monitored a cotton candy stand at a South Lawn picnic, for example, and helped at a local food bank. She and her fellow interns also attended a lecture series, which featured such guests as the president and first lady.

With nine credits of class work, a full-time internship and all the extra opportunities afforded by the nation's capital, Robbins certainly was busy. She gained experience, connections and lifelong friendships with her fellow interns and co-workers.

After she graduates, Robbins hopes to work in Washington, D.C. She is passionate about environmental issues and hopes to make a difference in that field through politics -- and perhaps photography. "Positive environmental change can be accomplished in so many ways. I hope to combine my interests to make an impact in my own way," she said.

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Last Updated March 23, 2015