As a Willamette University student, Ben Bryant ’09 analyzed city government in his economics classes.
Today, it’s his job.
“Throughout my educational career, I dreamed of ways I could make government more cost effective and efficient,” says Bryant, who majored in economics. “In practice, I’ve also learned other values, importantly, that the time devoted to public process allows for better decision making, as community members become more invested in their government.”
In the five years since he graduated from Willamette, Bryant has transformed from an idealistic student to an active participant in city government — earning a master’s of public administration from the University of Kansas, completing a joint management internship with the cities of Tualatin and Wilsonville, and now working as a management analyst for the city of Tualatin.
“The skills I honed at Willamette have helped me meet the challenge of preserving the public process while also seeking ways to make it more efficient,” he says. “I can’t stress enough how learning to think and write at Willamette, in a variety of subjects, really prepared me for my career.”
Bryant discovered his interest in city government at a young age, observing his father who worked for 17 years as the city manager of Albany, Ore.
However, public service isn’t the only passion Bryant shares with his father.
“My parents gave me my first set of golf clubs when I was 2 weeks old, and my dad taught me to play in grade school,” Bryant says. “Growing up, spending hours on end at the golf course really helped develop my interpersonal skills, whether it was with friends or with strangers.”
When it came time to choose a college, Bryant’s dream of someday working in city government took first priority — but that didn’t mean he had to give up his other interests.
“Like most student athletes, I chose Willamette for its academic reputation and the sense of belonging I felt when I first visited campus,” he says. “The fact that I had the skills and abilities to also be competitive on the golf team was definitely a bonus, and something I relished.”
At Willamette, it didn’t take long for Bryant’s professors to recognize his enthusiasm and drive.
“Ben understood that you sometimes had to wake up early in the morning and get your work done, because you’re not going to find the job where you sleep until noon, work three hours a day and get paid a hundred thousand dollars a year,” says economics professor Laura Taylor, who served as Bryant’s advisor.
“It was fun to have him in class, because he was easy-going, very interested in learning and always ready to be called on.”
Bryant’s work ethic in the classroom paid off, earning him the competitive James S. Kemper scholarship his freshman year.
As a Kemper scholar, Bryant received a $3,000 yearly scholarship and funding for summer internships proceeding his sophomore and junior years — first as a mayoral fellow for Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and then as a business finance intern for the global engineering firm, CH2M Hill in Denver.
“With these two internships, I learned a lot about the professional work environment: what it is like to work 40 hours a week, the proper etiquette in an office place and how to navigate through different levels of the organizational hierarchy, while also respecting structure,” Bryant says.
Despite his many extracurricular activities, Bryant graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a 3.88 cumulative GPA. He also earned the Richard M. Gillis Senior Economics Student Award for his outstanding contribution to the Economics Department.
Though balancing golf practices with his classes, internships and many other activities was a challenge, Bryant says he never regretted his decision to be a student athlete.
“Golf was a wonderful escape and stress reliever,” he says. “With Willamette’s small class sizes, I knew my professors and they were always understanding if I had to miss class.”
After graduation, Bryant didn’t waste any time before continuing along his career path — enrolling at the University of Kansas School of Public Affairs and Administration in fall 2009.
Two years later, armed with a master’s degree in public administration, he returned to Oregon for a joint management internship with the cities of Tualatin and Wilsonville.
In this unique position, Bryant was the lead man coordinating the Basalt Creek planning project, helping the neighboring cities shape the future of the 600-acre lot while splitting his time between two offices.
Today Bryant is no longer an intern, but rather a full-time management analyst for the city of Tualatin — supporting the community development director, city manager, mayor and city council on various regional committees and helping prepare the committees for upcoming discussions.
His position also requires him to speak in public, often to audiences that include elected officials and mayors from across the Portland region.
“The work that we do often has to go through public process, whether it’s building a road or creating a new program,” he says. “It’s a field that is difficult at times — requiring long hours, navigating through controversial subjects and working with groups of people who don’t always get along — but city management is the best way to make an impact on local communities.”
Though addressing groups of elected officials can be nerve-wracking, Bryant says playing golf at Willamette gave him the confidence to think on his feet and respond to challenging questions.
“In golf you need to envision your shot, while in life you need to envision your career and set goals for how you are going to get there,” he says. “My experience with pressure situations on the golf course taught me to remain calm and execute my plan, regardless of the potential obstacles and hazards in the way.”
• Story by Katie Huber ’13, politics major