AHS grad takes high risk that comes up big
Ben Bumgarner graduated with a bachelor’s degree in restaurant, hotel and tourism management from University of Wisconsin-Stout last May. In order to graduate, however, Bumgarner needed an internship to complete all of his requirements.
So, what he took as a risk ended up with high reward, as the Austin native now works full time at the nation’s capital.
The Austin High School Class of ‘14 alumnus currently works as sales support and lead development coordinator at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Center in Washington D.C., which is only a few blocks from the White House and is within the Federal Triangle, which is a historic district in the heart of the city.
“I don’t really know how it happened,” Bumgarner said. “It came together, my boss and I clicked, and soon enough, I was living in Virginia and commuting to D.C. everyday. It’s been pretty exciting.”
When Bumgarner searched for positions last spring, he was wanting to explore the United States and head out east. He happened to stumble on a posting for the Reagan Building on LinkedIn. He read the description and was sold.
“I thought it was a shot in the dark, and I knew I could be good at it,” he said. “I contacted them, applied and sure enough, got a Skype interview after a general call with an HR rep and then the director of sales here at the building.”
One thing led to another and now Bumgarner enjoys working in D.C.
Bumgarner is employed by Trade Center Management Associates, which manages the Reagan Building for the federal General Services Agency, and hosts 1,800 events and conferences to more than a million people annually.
The Reagan Building is two-decades old and is the second-largest government building in the United States (largest in the capital) and has 3.1 million square feet on 11 acres. It’s the first and only federal building that’s able to be used for both public and private events. Inside the building includes offices for the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Trade Information Center and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. There are also private sector tenants using the space as well. There are retail and dining areas, art displays, entertainment, and it is open 24 hours a day.
Part of Bumgarner’s responsibilities include bringing in new businesses to host their events at the center, and a lot of it meant making cold calls to get his foot in the door, which made him a little anxious at first. A lot of his job taught him how to deal with the stress.
“I reach out to organizations and try to get them to bring their event to our building,” Bumgarner said. “I do it in different ways with cold calls, taking clients out and showing them our space, and doing some administrative work as well. It was difficult at first, but then it gets easier and easier. You’re feeling good on the phone one day, and the next morning you’re too scared to pick it up. You deal with a lot of rejection, but you have to stay confident and persevere.”
‘Pave my own route’
One of Bumgarner’s first jobs growing up was at the Austin Country Club, and he developed a love for serving people and being around them to help. He never considered this “work” and thoroughly enjoyed it enough to find a career in hospitality, and also served as a brand ambassador (SPAMbassador) for Hormel Foods last year.
However, he knew he wanted to do something different and decided to apply for the internship at the Reagan Building. Bumgarner remembered getting the Skype interview and had a good feeling it was going “the right direction.” He admitted that it was “unrealistic” at first, but after the conversation, he felt more confident to tell his parents about the potential opportunity out east.
“I remember calling my dad. ‘Hey, I had an interview at the Ronald Reagan Building,’” Bumgarner said. “He was kind of more realistic saying ‘the crime rate is definitely real,’ and I found that out. So, he was a little more hesitant. …my mom was quite the opposite and was very excited and happy for me. They were both supportive.”
Having grown up on a corn and soybean farm near Austin, Bumgarner wasn’t necessarily looking to follow in his family’s footsteps and had thought about eventually moving to a place that was outside of his hometown.
“My mom’s entire side of the family had worked in agriculture,” he said. “My older brother does it, but it was never my thing. Agriculture is great, but it wasn’t for me, and I wanted to pave my own route in a sense, get out of the area and experience something new.”
His father, Bill Bumgarner, admittedly “took a double take” when Ben approached him about moving out east. Bill and his wife had never left Austin. Letting their child leave for an unfamiliar place was a little nerve wracking at first.
“It just was a long ways away from home and we didn’t expect that. It was a little bit out of our character, so he probably did get this uncertain response from us,” Bill said. “We encouraged him to find a good place to live and were supportive. We knew that this had to happen in order for him to go on with his journey in life. It turned out really good for him.”
Ben was also the first in his immediate family to earn a four-year college degree and move on to doing something different aside from agriculture, Bill told the Herald. He was very proud of his son and aside from giving “fatherly advice” when asked by Ben, Bill just supported his son in his decisions and let him go on his own way.
After visiting Ben earlier this month in D.C., seeing where his son worked, and visiting all the nation’s memorials and landmarks, Bill was more affirmed in his belief that Ben was doing well.
“It was something that I never did, I chose to stay in my own comfort zone,” Bill said. “I’m kind of emotional, and when he left it was difficult for me. It was so different; I never left home. As a parent, I never pestered him or told him that ‘he needed to do that.’ I just kind of let him do his thing, and he really did a lot of this on his own.”
‘You have to go for it’
At the end of his internship, Ben was able to apply for a full-time position at the Reagan Building and was offered to stay. Now, he enjoys his time in Washington D.C. with his girlfriend, Amy, who was willing to go to D.C. with him, living in Arlington, Virginia.
“I think it’s just really cool,” Ben said of his journey. “It’s a very powerful place. I realized that I was so proud of where I worked, and I developed a passion for the building and for what I’m doing. It made me want to stay. It’s such a powerful and important building and what we do is important. It’s just an amazing atmosphere and a very cool place to be and I like what I do.”
Whether or not Ben considered coming back home to the Midwest, he believes he would depending on the right time and the circumstances. For now, he wants to seize the opportunity and experience life.
“I love D.C. and I love Virginia, it’s so beautiful,” he said. “I’ll maybe find my way back home. For the time being, I don’t plan on leaving any time soon. It’s my home for the next five years possibly. I wanted to take this opportunity and experience it.”
As for advice to fresh out of college graduates looking to start their careers, Ben shared that it was important to seize an opportunity and to not doubt yourself.
“It was pretty intimidating to put myself in that position,” he said. “It was an opportunity that I didn’t want to let go to waste. I jumped at it. You have to go for it.”