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Engineering senior Ishmam Ahmed captures the Hunstman forum for Penn's Instagram.

Credit: Horia Clement

College junior Caroline Kim was at Kelly Writers House last week when she noticed another student, her head down, rolling cookie dough into balls and placing them on a sheet. Wanting to capture the moment, she snapped a photo.

The next day, the moment resurfaced on more than 34,000 people’s Instagram feeds when it was posted on Penn’s Instagram account.

Kim is one of five “visual storytelling interns” who work as photographers for Penn’s Office of University Communications. As part of her job, she travels around campus with her camera in tow, snapping photos of campus buildings and moments of student life that are filtered, topped off with a witty caption and memorialized online for students, prospective students and alumni alike to see.

Penn’s Manager of New Media Communications Matt Griffin, who manages all of Penn’s social media accounts, hired an intern in 2013 to help him take photos to post on the Instagram account, which he called the “sexiest” of all the social media accounts he manages. Griffin realized that Instagram, which he said is structured to showcase student life, benefitted from the student point of view, and has since hired four more interns — all of them students.

Each intern is required to send in around three photos per day to Griffin, who then selects which ones to post. Unlike most students, who have to take time out of their days to go to their work study jobs, students said that their roles as photographers fit easily into their day-to-day routine of walking around campus and attending clubs.

“It’s actually easier than it seems,” Engineering senior and Under the Button staff member Ishmam Ahmed said. “I’m in Engineering, and I live in Rodin, so I walk across campus all day — I try to walk really slowly and see what is happening.” He added that he tries to even out his photos between scenic campus buildings and action photos of students.

Still, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to constantly submit photos of College Hall, Ahmed said.

Additionally, the job even helped students get outside their normal lives. Engineering sophomore Christopher Kao said that the opportunity to take cool photos is often the tipping point that helps him decide to attend speaker events or student performances.

The interns said their favorite photos were the ones with people in them rather than shots of campus, even though campus shots typically get far more likes, because they get people to reflect on their memories at Penn. In Kim’s first Instagram photo posted on the account, she took a photo of a button that said “I met my best friend at Penn.” Alumni and students commented and tagged their friends on the post, she said.

Even though all the photos are posted anonymously from the Penn account, the interns said they are able to insert their own voices into the photos they take. Kim said she often writes her own pun-infused captions for the posts. Ahmed added that the five interns come from all four schools and are involved in different activities, meaning that they end up submitting a wide range of subjects that reflect their own lives and social circles, paralleling the diversity of student experiences at Penn.

Still, Kim said, she prefers to remain anonymous, highlighting other students rather than drawing attention to the fact that she’s behind the camera lens. A few of her friends spotted her ring in a photo, but she doesn’t often tell students about her job.

“It resonates more with people when it’s not about me,” she said.

Though the students receive paychecks, their passion for photography and school spirit impact their work just as much, they said.

“I really love Penn, and I guess I just want to convey that in my photos,” Kim said.

Ahmed agreed. “I try to look for things that will get people to have a little more Penn pride when they see them,” he said.

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