Student Spotlight: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sophia Simons

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (MC2) Sophia Simons is a student in the Newhouse School’s advanced military visual journalism program and an active-duty service member in the United States Navy. Simons, who is studying advanced photojournalism, joined the 10-month program to learn the civilian side of photojournalism and receive an education from some of the top experts in the industry. During her time at Newhouse, she’s completing coursework in not just photography, but sound, communications, multimedia storytelling, writing and design.

Why did you want to be a part of the advanced military visual journalism program at Newhouse?

a person smiles while holding a camera and interacting with children
MC2 Sophia Simons plays with children while documenting a women’s shelter in Cartagena, Colombia in November 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sophia Simons)

For me personally, I wanted to join the program so I could learn the civilian side of photojournalism, receive education from some of the top minds in our field and to gain experience and knowledge from my peers across the different branches. To be frank, I was simply looking for the opportunity to learn and grow in my field.

What have you been surprised to learn while in the program?

I was surprised to find how similar the world of photography is to that of the Navy. While you can be an amazing photographer, the connections you make are arguably more important to telling people’s stories. In the military, making connections is akin to currency and the ability to forge strong connections can give you greater access to telling people’s stories.

Why is visual journalism important to you?

Visual journalism is important to me because I believe each person’s story deserves to be told. We are all held subject to death one day and frankly it’s the stories we tell of each other that transcend death. Adding a visual aspect to the telling of the story allows the viewer to create a stronger emotional tie, to connect on a deeper level and truly see the story.  

military personnel pose for a photograph in the middle of a street
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd class Sophia Simons (far right) poses for a photo with three individuals from the Honduran army while visiting a Red Cross in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in November 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sophia Simons)

You get to complete a lot of photography projects in the MVJ program. What are some of your favorite subjects to photograph?

In the military, we do not have a lot of access to studio photography on a regular basis so many of my favorite subjects to photograph have been people in a controlled environment. But I find that uncontrolled action and emotion shots are still my favorite, as I think they speak more deeply to a person’s story.

exterior nighttime shot of Crouse College on Syracuse University's campus
One of the most prominent buildings on Syracuse University’s campus, Crouse College, was built in 1888. (Photo by MC2 Sophia Simons)

Once you’ve returned to your military position after the program, how do you envision using the skills you’ve gained at Newhouse? 

When I return to the military, I intend to teach my junior Sailors what I have learned here so that we can improve our craft across the fleet. I also wish to use the skills to one day join the Blue Angels.

What do you hope to do in the future?

When it comes to my future, my main goal it to be able to help people, wherever that may be and in whatever capacity. I wish to make it to a Chief in the Navy and I am striving to create a better future for those that come after me.