Bellisario student has her camera pointed at Pittsburgh this summer

Jonathan F. McVerry
July 28, 2021

(Editor's Note: This is the ninth in a series of stories about Bellisario College students completing summer internships.)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Sarah Simpson is passionate about the subtle art of making people happy.

The senior film production major dreams of writing and directing “Saturday Night Live.” A love for television and a history of video work dating back to high school set the stage. And as she nears graduation, she is ready to start the first act in achieving that dream.

“I‘ve been an avid television watcher since I was young, and I know everyone in my generation could say that, but I always felt a deep connection to it. Specifically, comedy,” Simpson said. “I've always wanted to make an impact on the world by being part of a show that people go to for comfort.”

Programs like “Community,” “Arrested Development” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” are major influences. Simpson said the cinematography in these shows is simple, subtle, and powered by good writing and believable production.

SNL is the pinnacle, and that dream is driving Simpson’s Penn State experience. She arrived at the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications in 2018 with a wealth of video experience. Her high school, Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pennsylvania, had an extensive video program and offered a lot of resources for budding producers, directors and writers like Simpson.

“I felt very fortunate, because starting out [at Penn State] there were a lot of kids who never picked up a camera and I came in knowing the basic things,” she said. “And I never would have expected all the stuff I’ve learned at Penn State … things like film technology and so much more about equipment and techniques.”

“Every day is like a new adventure. I never know where it’s going to take me."

— Sarah Simpson, film production major

This summer, Simpson is flexing her video and photography skills as a visuals intern at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Since June, her videos and photos have been published as standalone packages showcasing a taste of Pittsburgh. Many have accompanied news articles, as well. She logs in two to three assignments a day.

From “heart-warming” stories like retirees building Little Free Libraries to more serious coverage like an FBI press conference, she has tackled a wide range of news stories.

“Sometimes they just want cute pictures,” she said.

In some cases, Simpson travels with reporters or meets them on location. They share information and ideas for the story, and coordinate plans.

The internship is “very much real world,” according to Simpson. The hours can be long, the travel difficult, the assignments challenging, and not everyone wants their photo taken. But she said she is “out there in the field getting things done” and the newsroom treats her like a seasoned reporter.

“Every day is like a new adventure. I never know where it’s going to take me,” she said. “I get an email with my assignments and all of the information I need, and then I drive to wherever the assignment is. It’s a lot of work, but I really do love it.”

Her freshman year, Simpson joined PSNtv, Penn State's student-run television network. The experience started with disappointment, but it led to something far more memorable.

“I tried out to be an anchor, because I had done that in high school, but I didn’t get a spot,” she said. “I had never worked behind the scenes, so I thought I’d try that. I kept showing up every week and I ended up being one of the more important people [at PSNtv].”

By her second semester, Simpson was a technical director at PSNtv. Then she became the news director running weekly live productions and managing a crew. Today, she is PSNtv’s president and recruits members, assigns positions and duties, and oversees production.

“The show has grown so much,” she said. “One of the things I'm most proud of at Penn State is seeing the show when we had three people showing up every week and anchors bailing on us to now doing all of these packages, getting us into great places, and really making a name for ourselves.”

This past semester, Simpson worked as a video intern for the Bellisario College. Her supervisor, Paris Palmer, said she is a fast learner and excellent communicator with genuine curiosity.

“Sarah isn’t afraid to ask questions and wants to become better at her craft,” said Palmer, a multimedia specialist and the Bellisario College’s coordinator of strategic communications. “She has a very warm and outgoing personality, as well as being a natural creative.”

In addition to honing her video skills, Simpson credits Penn State and the Bellisario College for building relationships — both professional and social. She was recently promoted to vice president of the Penn State Ukulele Club, and she is a guide, a leadership position, for the Blue Band Silks. She also has built connections with faculty members who have been integral to her success.

“I'm so happy that I ended up at Penn State because I found the best network of people,” she said. “I feel incredibly lucky going into my senior year. I am a member of the Blue Band. That’s how I made all of my friends, as well as being a part of the Bellisario College and being involved with PSN News … that led me to a whole another group of friends.”

She added, “And along the way I’m getting the experience of creating content and having these real-world experiences. It's just been really exciting.”

Last Updated July 29, 2021