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Penn State Student Pursues Dual Passions In Male-Dominated Sports Photography & Aviation Fields

Haley McCullough, a junior public relations major at Penn State, has been in love with the communications field since high school.

She first found passion in this industry by making a hype video for her high school soccer team, and the rest was history.

“I went out and started recording them, and I thought everyone was going to think I was so weird,” McCullough said. “Then, I took the next two days to edit it, and I threw it up on Instagram and it went viral in my school.”

Students from surrounding schools were also reaching out and complimenting her work. They even gave her the nickname “the girl with the camera,” and she continued this by making her senior class video in 2020.

“This needs to be my career,” McCullough said. “I love this feeling, and I love being able to get emotion out of people through the work that I do.”

Now at Penn State, she is a part of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM), the Penn State Sports Business Conference, After the Whistle, and she’s an intern with Penn State football.

“I work for Penn State football right now, and if I could do this for the rest of my life… I would,” McCullough said.

McCullough is entering a male-dominated industry head-on. According to Zippia, just 37.3% of professional sports photographers are women.

She works extremely hard to someday get a career in the NFL doing videography or photography, and her multiple organizations are helping her achieve those goals every day.

Courtesy of Haley McCullough

“For women interested in doing it, just get after it and get involved,” McCullough said. “AWSM has really helped me be confident in being a woman in these male-dominated industries and just knowing who you are is so important.”

While McCullough sees her future with a professional sports organization, she has always had another career path in her blood, too.

Going back multiple generations, McCullough has been surrounded by flight and pilots for as long as she could remember.

“Being involved in this industry has been in my family forever,” McCullough said. “My dad is a pilot and my grandfather soloed, and my great-grandfather on my mother’s side was a World War ll pilot.”

Ever since she was a little girl, she has been flying. McCullough recalls taking day trips with her grandfather. He would let her sit in the front and touch the controls, and she felt like she was helping to fly the plane.

“I always wanted to be the first female pilot in the family, and I knew that it was a very male-dominated thing, but that kind of pushed me even more,” McCullough said.

Aviation sure is male-dominated, as just 29% of pilots are women, according to Zippia.

Courtesy of Haley McCullough

McCullough started taking flying much more seriously and found herself taking lessons. Her first lesson was taught by a 23-year-old woman who taught her to be confident in her abilities as a pilot.

“I think seeing someone so close in age to me be such a force within the field was incredibly encouraging,” McCullough said. “It was also nice to have this older sister figure because I’m the oldest in my whole family, so I’m always the one leading the pack.”

By the end of this year, McCullough will have over 40 hours of flight time and is planning to get her VFR Private Pilots License.

Sharing passions for both careers is something that McCullough takes great pride in, and she plans to keep both in her future plans.

Facing these male-dominated areas as a woman can be difficult, but she has no plans to slow down.

“This piece of advice that sticks with me forever is that if you fake it until you make it, literally everyone is faking it, so it’s fine,” McCullough said. “Don’t even worry if you are good enough. You are. Just act like it.”

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About the Author

Mara McKeon

Mara is a sophomore staff writer majoring in English and public relations. She loves all things sports and anything that has peanut butter. You can usually find her obsessing over country music and counting down the days until she gets to see Luke Combs at the Linc. Feel free to reach her on Twitter @MckeonMara, and for more formal affairs, her email is [email protected]

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