Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bryan Bumgardner - Determined to Succeed




At 5:02 p.m. on Nov. 30, Bryan Bumgardner was sweating — but more importantly, he was late.

It was the day before the deadline for ASME’s summer internship program. Bumgardner knew the post office closed at 5 p.m., so he had planned to mail his application early in the afternoon. Instead, he grew distracted, becoming absorbed in the stories he was working on for West Virginia University's (WVU) student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum.

As clauses turned into sentences turned into paragraphs, Bumgardner forgot about the time. At 4:45 p.m., he remembered.

He grabbed his materials. He ran to the campus post office. Closed. There’s another post office across town. I don’t have my car. I rode the bus today. His thoughts stumbled over each other as he ran down the street in sandals and lurched into the other post office.

The woman behind the counter took one look at him and said, “You look like you really need to mail that letter.”

The effort was worth it — Bumgardner is now working at Scientific American as one of the students chosen for the ASME internship.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “That making a total embarrassment of myself paid off is incredible.”

“Or maybe,” he pondered, “it was all those sleepless nights and all that grief and all those missed meals and slipped grades that I gave up for journalism that resulted in this.”

Despite these sacrifices, Bumgardner can’t imagine working in a field other than journalism. He first became a storyteller around the campfire, back when he was a Boy Scout, and realized how much he loved to see people laugh or cry as a result of his words. To him, carrying on the ancient art of storytelling was the ultimate privilege.

For years, he spent most of his time reading and writing. He observed and questioned the nature around him. He philosophized about the world. He studied humanism and French, learned to play guitar and drums.

But when looking to get involved at Fairmont State University, Bumgardner focused on storytelling. During his freshman year, he wrote play reviews for the student newspaper, The Columns. By his sophomore year, he had become editor-in-chief. 

While visiting the paper’s publisher one day, he noticed a copy of The Daily Athenaeum. Looking through the newspaper, he had only one thought: I am in the wrong place.

By the next year, Bumgardner had transferred to WVU, eventually obtaining a position as city editor for The Daily Athenaeum. Since there wasn't a magazine on campus, Bumgardner worked for three months to craft a 2,500-word feature story for class — about the WVU tradition of couch burning — that earned him a recommendation letter for the ASME program. He took design courses as part of the journalism curriculum and “fell in love with the Adobe Creative Suite,” so much so that he now designs fake magazine covers for fun.

And when his photojournalism professor, former Washington Post and Associated Press photographer Lois Raimondo, came into class early and saw Bumgardner sitting there alone, working on design, she asked if he’d be interested in helping her put together a book of the work done by her advanced photography class. With that, he’d added “layout editor” to his resume.

“He’s such a self-starter that he goes outside of class and takes advantage of every opportunity he can to learn,” Raimondo said. “This is a guy who is equipping himself with all the tools he needs to make himself a real contender in terms of what he’s able to do later as a designer or reporter.”

Later in the spring, Bumgardner channeled his energies into a new role as the communications director for the Student Government Association (SGA). He’d previously served as the beat reporter during the campaign. 

“He truly believes that getting to know a person or what surrounds a person will help you know the story rather than just the facts,” Ryan Campione, SGA president said. Campione said Bumgardner spent an average of two hours interviewing each of the 18 people within the party.

At Scientific American, where Bumgardner said the staff regularly has intense debates about stories’ details and data, he seems to fit right in. His lifelong love of science is just an added perk.

“My sister had all the Disney movies,” Bumgardner said. “I had nature documentaries.”

A week and a half into the internship, he’s already written blog posts and chosen stories from the wire to fill the front page of the website while still finding time to explore New York, which he describes as “my hometown for hundreds of blocks.” But Raimondo thinks he has more to learn.

“At school, he’s one of the best students, floating at the top of the pool,” Raimondo said. “He needs to be swimming around the bottom, looking up at the light.”

It is this drive to discover and analyze the world’s offerings that has brought Bumgardner to this stage, the motivation behind all the missed meals and slipped grades. He's already traveled to Europe and once took a two-week backpacking trip in New Mexico — because, he said, he knows what it's like to live the life country music stars sing about.

“I’ve sat on the front porch without any shoes on, drank moonshine and watched corn grow, and it’s really not that glamorous," Bumgardner said. "We did it because there was nothing else to do."

Now, Bryan Bumgardner has more to do.

By Mary Clare Fischer, University of Maryland, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance
Edited by Em Maier, University of Pittsburgh, Inc. 

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