Internship, Scholarship Support Shape Photojournalism Student's Kent State Experience

Recent graduate Dakota Varney, ‘23, spent the spring 2023 semester practicing his photography and multimedia skills in one of Northeast Ohio’s treasures: the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP).

Varney, a journalism major with a photojournalism minor, was in an elective class on recreational parks when he learned of the opportunity to work at CVNP.

“The professor in the class was very well connected with the park service,” Varney said. “I reached out to him, and he started sending emails to different people in the park.”

Dakota with camera

He became connected to the digital strategy team, and joined CVNP for the semester as a photography intern. Along with taking photos, he was also responsible for curating a few different galleries, collecting photos from people in the park, local Metroparks and different natural biologists.

“One that’s about to be published is a wildflower gallery,” Varney said. “It’s all spring wildflowers … that’s going to be very big for the park.”

Varney is also working on a historical exhibit to showcase the former Brandywine Country Club golf course property that the park purchased in late 2022.

“I’m working with different photographers, gathering images both old from historical slides, and new images taken of the property now because it’s been closed for several years,” Varney said. “(We want) to show how decrepit it is, how worn down it is, because the park is going to be working to restore it.”

The gallery will showcase progress the park is making — not only to the people in Peninsula and surrounding areas, but the national chapter for the parks in Washington D.C.

Along with his internship, Varney was a photographer for the College of Communication and Information and said he enjoys taking photos on his own, specifically documentary work.

“I like talking to people and making connections, and you don’t always get that with breaking news,” Varney said. “I love doing architecture photography; it’s something new I just started doing, but I love it.”

Varney is also a recipient of the Wallace J. Hagedorn Photography Scholarship, a competitive scholarship that supports photography students’ tuition costs and out-of-classroom experiences that help develop portfolios.

“It really caught me off-guard because I didn’t think I was going to get it,” Varney said. “I came in as an adult student so when I came to Kent, I had no idea (about) anything.”

In addition to receiving tuition support, Varney was able to engage in two portfolio-building/professional development workshops because of the scholarship before the pandemic began: the Northern Short Course and the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar.  

“Both were great experiences where I got to branch out,” he said. “I saw speakers that are (at the top of) the industry. I saw David Burnett speak and he was incredible.”

Burnett, a renowned photojournalist who has traveled the world, spoke about covering Vietnam; other photographers spoke on mental health and preparing for what one might encounter in the field.

“You could really see how a lot of the older people never talked about their emotions or anything because they weren’t raised to do so,” Varney said. “Hearing them talk for the first time in 20 years about something that happened, that was fairly traumatic, you learn to take things more seriously.”

Varney said the workshops and portfolio development were big parts of what he loved about the scholarship. The tuition portion “without a doubt” benefitted him as he stayed on track to graduate last month.  

POSTED: Thursday, May 18, 2023 10:56 AM
Updated: Monday, June 5, 2023 05:25 PM
Kaitlyn Finchler, '23