Alumnus helps facilitate 'working trip' for students to White House

April 13, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A Penn State alumnus who has covered the White House for years helped make a trip to the nation’s capital special for a dozen students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

Alumnus Dan Huff, a photojournalist for The Associated Press, facilitated some behind-the-scenes access as part of the trip coordinated by the University’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The students and accompanying faculty and staff had special visitor access to White House media areas, toured the briefing room, observed network news live locations, and were at the White House on a busy day, when a news conference was conducted in the West Wing after President Donald Trump signed anti-sex trafficking legislation.

Students also had the chance to meet several TV correspondents and producers, including Kristen Welker (whose mother attended Penn State) and Kelly O’Donnell of NBC News, and Kevin Corke of Fox News.

"This is one of those unique and very special opportunities that happens because of our extensive alumni network," said Steve Kraycik, faculty adviser for the Society of Professional Journalists chapter and an assistant teaching professor and director of student television in the Bellisario College. "The trip provided a chance for our students to get a realistic, behind-the-scenes look at an actual White House press corps workday."

Huff staffs one of three AP positions at the White House once each quarter. He has worked at the White House since Ronald Reagan’s second term and handles a variety of general assignment duties and covers professional golf for the AP in the summer.

“After being in the White House so long, it’s fun to see it through fresh eyes,” said Huff, a 1982 graduate who visits the University Park campus each fall to talk to students. “My goal was that it was a working trip. It was not a sightseeing visit. It was important for them to hear from people and see things so they have a better understanding of what happens — and if they want to do it.”

After the White House, the Penn State contingent’s visit continued in the afternoon with a stop at the U.S. Capitol, where students saw the House Radio-TV Gallery and Studio and met alumna Kim Oates, a senior media logistics specialist who earned her degree in 2009. The group also witnessed the intense media interest, with several dozen cameras and reporters seeking comments, surrounding the Mark Zuckerberg Facebook privacy hearing in the nation’s capital.

For senior Sierra Phillips, a journalism major who completed an internship with NBC4 in Washington, D.C., last summer, the trip provided a confirmation of her passion. She already has a job waiting for her after graduation with WAAY-TV in Hunstville, Alabama.

“My dream is to work as a political correspondent in D.C.,” she said. “The best part was seeing where everything happens from a press perspective behind at the White House.”

At the same time, the trip provided motivation for underclassmen who made the trip, including Jamie Burton, a sophomore from Clifton Park, New York.

“The image that stuck out to me the most was seeing the White House in person. Before this trip, I had only seen pictures of it in textbooks or on television,” Burton said. “It was amazing to see a building which holds so much history right in front of me. It made me put everything I have learned in school into perspective.”

Membership in Penn State's Society of Professional Journalists chapter is open to all Bellisario College of Communications students. The group is already getting ready for its next trip: the SPJ Region One Conference from April 20-22 in Philadelphia.

  • Capitol walk

    Students talk toward the U.S. Capitol during their visit to Washington, D.C.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated April 13, 2018