Group photography exhibition shines the spotlight on internship program

January 23, 2020

The antique cameras in the window of 027 Borland Building on Penn State’s University Park campus give you a sense of what to expect before you enter the room. In fact, many students have wandered into the office simply to ask about them and, after that, were hooked.

“There is something energizing about the creative atmosphere and the people you meet in this space,” explained Stephanie Swindle Thomas, director of social media and visual assets for the College of Arts and Architecture and internship supervisor for the college’s communications office. “I think that’s how I ended up with 27 interns last semester! Everyone who came in was so excited about photography, video, and learning that I ended up offering them internships.”

Thirteen of Thomas’ interns will have another line to add to their resumes soon. "Dojo," a group photography exhibition featuring works by Thomas and her interns, ranging in age from 7 years old to 27 years old, will open at the Huntingdon County Arts Council with an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7. The show will feature a photograph by each participant from their personal practice to demonstrate the diversity of their style and subject matter. There also will be a portrait wall and a sales wall.

Stephanie Swindle Thomas portrait by Cody Goddard

Stephanie Swindle Thomas portrait by Cody Goddard

IMAGE: Cody Goddard

The internship program not only has revolutionized the way the College of Arts and Architecture documents and promotes events, but also has changed Thomas’ role from primary photographer and public relations specialist to instructor. She and her colleague and officemate Cody Goddard, multimedia specialist in the Office of Digital Learning, suddenly found themselves trying to determine what these students needed to learn. Each intern had a different skill level and different interest – photography, videography, social media and public relations. What they had in common was their enthusiasm and familiarity with the arts, which Thomas believes is essential for creating quality content.

“I wanted students who loved the arts. They could learn the rest!” she said. “Most of all, I wanted them to complete the internship with the experience to find work as a well-rounded multimedia and communications professional. Many of our students will become arts entrepreneurs, and they will need to be able to manage their brand, document their work, and promote their art on top of excelling in their areas of study.”

Thomas started offering workshops to create a baseline knowledge for Level 1 academic credit interns, and she and Goddard both started offering Level 2 workshops on Fridays with open office hours following the workshops for applied learning. The workshop invitation list grew to include friends of the students involved, staff members who wanted to skill build for their annual job performance goals, and faculty who wanted to share the workshop offerings with their classes.

Over the past three years, the visibility of the program and the offerings grew organically based on what the students wanted to learn. The cohort, composed of College of Communications and Arts and Architecture students as well as students from the College of Agriculture Sciences and the College of the Liberal Arts, began earning accolades. One intern, Natalie Gonzales, earned a summer internship with Canon cameras – one of 18 selected from over 14,000 applications (another intern was a finalist). Avery Belser, a professional photography major in the School of Visual Arts who has interned with Thomas since he was a high school student, earned an award for his photograph in the Art Alliance photography show and mounted a solo exhibition in the fall on campus called, “Freshman 15,” featuring 15 photographs that told the story of his freshman year.

“I’ve been an intern since I was 16 years old, and it has given me many valuable experiences,” said Belser. “It’s not only that I have learned incredibly useful things but also that I have made many lifelong friends along the way.”

Briana Bennett, a former photography intern, glass artist, and staff member in glass research in the Penn State Department of Materials Science and Engineering, will also have some of her glasswork on display in the gallery. The exhibition title, "Dojo," is a nod to martial arts spaces and immersive learning practices and relates to the photographic conversations and learning that happen in 027 Borland.

Eames Aeschbacher, "Tower"

Eames Aeschbacher, "Tower" 

IMAGE: Eames Aeschbacher

“We’re all learning from each other, all the time, and I want people to see our work in conversation,” added Thomas. “I want my 7-year-old intern’s photograph to be seen with an equal amount of respect as mine because it’s as much about practice and growth as it is about skill. That’s why the works in the show will not have traditional labels and why everything is equally priced. In the studio, as artists, we are equals.”

Thomas and her interns will host two workshops at the Huntingdon County Arts Council as part of the exhibition programming. There will be a “Storytelling through Photomontage” workshop from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, as part of Art Walk where participants will create visual conversations with everything from junk mail to calendars using underappreciated photographs to tell new stories. There will also be a “Studio Portraiture” workshop from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 22. Thomas and several interns will share tips about working with studio lighting and models. Everyone will have the opportunity to experiment with different light settings and poses.

"Dojo" will be on view Feb. 7 to 28 at the Huntingdon County Arts Council. The gallery will be open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays noon to 6 p.m. and 10 am. to 4 p.m. Saturdays at 212 Fourth St, Huntingdon Pennsylvania. For more information, visit their website:

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Last Updated January 27, 2020