Pope's visit a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for student journalists

September 30, 2015

For a contingent of Penn State journalism students who followed Pope Francis during portions of his trip to the United States last week, the visit was as much about career preparation as religious pilgrimage.

Nearly two dozen students got hands-on experience in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia while covering the trip. Separate small teams of students — some working in partnership with Catholic News Service, some for depth reporting or television classes and some providing reports for the Centre Daily Times in State College — covered the historic papal visit.

No matter what they were doing, the students gained an appreciation for their chosen field as well as the commitment of College of Communications faculty members.

“It was an incredible opportunity, once in a lifetime. The College of Comm never ceases to amaze me,” said Haley Nelson, a senior completing double majors in journalism and Spanish from Danville, California. “It’s the reason I came to Penn State.”

Nelson and the other students benefitted from the work of faculty members and administrators who crafted partnerships with media organizations and handled logistical issues to enable the students to get hands-on experience in a situation that challenged and stretched all involved.

“It’s completely different form the experience you get in the classroom. It’s not just working on your technique or perfecting your eye for photos. It’s being out there in the field,” Nelson said. “I was bumping elbows with Associated Press photographers talking to them about their experience. It was great real-world experience.”

Faculty members worked for months to make the trip a reality and they were right beside the students while covering the pontiff’s visit. Faculty members involved in the trips were: senior lecturers John Beale, Curt Chandler, Ann Kuskowski and Will Yurman. Also, John Dillon, the Norman Eberly Professor of Practice in Journalism, regularly leads the news practicum class that provides content for the Centre Daily Times and Steve Kraycik, director of student television and online operations, leads the class that produces “Centre County Report,” a weekly TV newscast.

Students challenged themselves to find different perspectives and different ways to report about the visit.

“There’s always the overarching storyline that the pope has come to the United Sates, but there are all kinds of other interesting supporting stories,” said Gabrielle Chappel, a senior completing dual majors in journalism and Spanish from Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. “One of my stories focused on Latino people who were there to see the pope. And there were just so many challenges, like dealing with the crowds or having your camera cases inspected by Homeland Security. It’s an experience I could not have gotten anywhere else.”

Along with reporting form the cities about the visits, other students accompanied Catholics who traveled from central Pennsylvania by bus, riding along the entire trip, to chronicle their journey.

Each aspect of the various assignments allowed students to hone and improve their skills.

“It was a great experience just because journalism is a field that you can go do things like this,” said Cameron Hart, a senior journalism major from Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. “I love that I got to go see the pope, which is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” 

  • Taylor Bisacky, Washington, D.C., pope

    Senior Taylor Bisacky waits to get a shot of the pope passing on a parade route in Washington, D.C.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated October 02, 2015