A bookworm takes flight

Jonathan McVerry
July 05, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Standing in the empty National Air and Space Museum, Gabrielle Barone glances up at the airplanes and rockets. Her curiosity explodes. Where and when did these vehicles fly? What are their stories? Who were the men and women who made these technological marvels launch?

Many times on school and family trips, the junior journalism major was one of thousands of tourists visiting the museum. This summer, however, Barone enjoys exclusive access to the museum’s historic memorabilia while she's completing an internship in the digital experiences department at the Smithsonian Institution. Through this special experience, Barone said she is ready to unearth the backstories of the innovators who throughout history helped the United States take off.

“I feel like everyone knows about the planes and rockets, but I think looking at the people can be really helpful, too,” Barone said. “I want to provide a deeper look into their history.”

Barone is a State College native and a lifelong Penn State fan. She has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember. Her love of books is accompanied by a love of writing, which directed her toward the world of journalism. After attending an internship information session conducted by the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, she saw many ways to build a career in writing.

Like a good book, it was an opportunity she couldn’t put down.

“I wasn’t involved in journalism in high school,” she said. “I focused more on literary writing, but I thought journalism would be a good way to hone my writing skills.”

When Barone’s freshman year started, she immediately joined The Daily Collegian and began covering the women’s volleyball team for the sports section. The experience impacted her immediately. She made some of her best friends in the newsroom. She enjoyed meeting new people and sharing their stories with the campus community. She loved being a part of the daily grind of making a newspaper.

“Gabby is one of the most dependable writers that I have seen come through in my time at the Collegian,” said managing editor and senior journalism major Kara Duriez. “Whether it’s her beat or not, she is always there ready to pick up anything. Even if it’s a cops-related story, she’s ready.”

Duriez said Barone is especially good at finding the hidden talents and interests of the people she profiles. In a feature article about star volleyball player Haleigh Washington, instead of focusing on just volleyball, Barone found an interest both she and Washington shared.

“Gabby wrote a story about how Haleigh is a great athlete, but also loves to read,” Duriez said. “She talked about how (Washington’s) mother instilled that love of books when she was little. She’s an athlete, but stays interested in academics. Gabby finds those stories.”

Barone is now a feature writer for the Collegian. Last year, she spotlighted Penn State fencer Zara Moss. In just under 2,000 words of compelling quotes and in-depth detail, Barone shared Moss’ journey to fencing powerhouse Penn State and her dreams of competing in the 2020 Olympics.

“Zara was really amazing to talk to,” Barone said. “Finding the human interest anecdotes and getting the good lead and getting people reading is something I really like to do.”

This past school year, Barone was accepted to the Bellisario College’s Washington Program, which assists students in finding internship opportunities in the nation’s capital. She got the call from the Smithsonian in April during a journalism class. Luckily, the phone was turned off or she may have caused a scene.

“I almost fell out of the Sparks Building to check my phone,” she said.

The Air and Space Museum attracted 7 million visitors last year, which Barone points out is nearly as much traffic as the Louvre in France. Each Smithsonian museum has 25 interns who participate in the 10-week program.

“It’s amazing to run around the museum before people get there,” she said. “I can connect more with the artifacts versus competing with the hundreds of people who come in during the day.”

Barone’s stories can be found on the Air and Space Museum website throughout the summer.

Entering her junior year, Barone has already made a name for herself beyond the campus newspaper. She will be a teaching assistant for Bellisario College Dean Marie Hardin’s COMM 197 course, which teaches communications students about branding themselves. It was one of Barone’s favorite classes last year.

Last year, Barone worked with HerCampus Media, a group dedicated to supporting college women entering the communications field, to bring a television adaptation of her favorite book, “Handmaid’s Tale,” to the University Park campus.

“When I heard they were making the show, I emailed Hulu and said, ‘I love this book and I think Penn State would be a great audience for the show,’” she said.

It worked. Barone collaborated with Hulu to organize the event. The hit show’s first episode was screened in the Keller Building the same day it aired on the streaming network.

“People came and watched the first episode and it was really cool to connect with people like that,” she said.

During the summer and fall semesters last year, Barone completed an internship with the School of Engineering, Design, Technology and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) in the College of Engineering. Barone wrote feature stories and created content for the school’s social media platforms.

“Gabby was able to work on a significant amount of stories on the many things that we do here,” said Samantha Chavanic, communications strategist at SEDTAPP. “She did a lot of investigating of trends related to our programs and researched new ways to showcase our work.”

Chavanic said writing about engineering is “its own beast” when it comes to jargon and understanding the many areas its faculty represent. SEDTAPP in particular has a wide range of areas that touch on many different subjects. According to Chavanic, who was the intern supervisor, Barone was able to catch on quickly and continue to improve throughout the semester.

“It was a really great experience to see her become more comfortable writing for us because she took the time to research and understand the topics,” Chavanic said. “She was willing to put in the legwork and that shows what a good, committed writer she is.”

That commitment to her subjects, to their stories, and to her readers stems for Barone’s love of books. She is always reading something and always has a list of books to read. Barone hopes to be a writer like some of her favorite authors, such as Margaret Atwood or Charlotte Bronte. She also admires female writers like Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse and Caity Weaver at The New York Times.

“I would really like to become an amazing writer,” she said. “It would be great to work for the Washington Post, GQ or New York Magazine and write lifestyle pieces. It’s not hard-hitting journalism, but I think it’s the stuff we need to balance it all out.”

Last Updated July 05, 2018