Ben Kallen (SC '09) moved to Washington D.C. for college, and has stayed ever since. Now, he works at a government relations firm, where he advocated for science centers and research. Read more about Ben in this week's spotlight.
Ben made the trip from Sierra Canyon to Washington D.C. in 2009, where he attended university to study history and political science. Shortly after, he moved from one journey to another – Ben married in September, and his strong writing and public speaking skills landed him a job at a government relations firm, where he advocates for scientific centers and research. Read more about Ben’s work and what journey he plans to take on next.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself -- where you went to college, what you studied in school, etc.
Following my graduation from SC in 2009, I went to Washington University in St. Louis and began my college career as an architecture major. At the time, that choice made a lot of sense to me since I'd always loved drawing buildings and landscapes, and I was generally fascinated by the subject. However, it became evident after about a year and a half that architecture wasn't the major for me. I switched to a dual major in history and political science, which allowed me to pursue my abiding interest in national security studies and international affairs. I ultimately wrote a senior thesis on nuclear weapons proliferation in India and Pakistan and its impact on U.S. foreign policy in that region.
2. According to your LinkedIn profile, you're now working at a government relations firm. What propelled you to pursue this path?
My path to my current job was a little circuitous. At the time we graduated in 2013, neither my girlfriend (now wife) nor I had jobs. We knew we both wanted to work in public policy, so we decided to just move to Washington D.C. and pursue our careers. We both started working in restaurants and bars while searching for more steady jobs. After about two months, I wound up getting an internship with the Office of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). This experience proved invaluable to me because it gave me a deep understanding and appreciation for the complexities of the legislative process and the ins and outs of constituent service.
During my time in Senator Boxer's office, I worked on several projects with the staff member who handled NASA and space policy issues. I was naturally inclined toward this issue because it has some overlap with national security. Even more crucially, though, space exploration is simply awesome. It's inspiring, daring, and represents the best of what our country can accomplish when we strive to achieve the seemingly impossible. I decided that I wanted to contribute to that, and so I got a subsequent internship with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. This is a trade association that represents spaceflight technology companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic and advocates on their behalf for federal laws and policies that will help grow the commercial space industry in the U.S.
It was from there that I landed my first and current permanent job at Lewis-Burke Associates. Lewis-Burke is a lobbying and consulting firm that represents universities, scientific societies, and research centers. To put it succinctly, my colleagues and I work to get more federal funding for scientific research and development agencies like NASA and help our clients strengthen their relationships with the federal government. While a large part of my job there involves NASA, I have also worked extensively on issues related to the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and Department of Defense.
3. Were there any teachers/experiences at Sierra Canyon who inspired you to pursue the path you're currently on? If so, feel free to name specific teachers.
Writing and analysis have both been essential to my success thus far, and SC is absolutely where I first learned how to hone those skills. My English teachers (Nat Damon, Heidi Ellis, and Eric Schrode) and history teachers (Alison Brown, Tom Fennell, and Jamie Winetrobe) in particular helped me develop those capabilities while allowing me to exercise my passions for history and politics in their classes. I also acted in most of the plays the Drama Department produced while I was at SC. Doing so helped me become a more articulate public speaker, which is a critical asset for advocacy.
4. What do you enjoy doing when you're not at work?
D.C. is a wonderful city to live in because there's always something to do. Whether it’s frequenting one of the many museums, attending a street festival or free concert, or trying out one of the many new micro-breweries that keep popping up, we always try to stay busy.
My wife and I were married last September, so we've just been enjoying married life and planning for our future. Right now, a big part of my time and energy is devoted to house hunting. We began looking at homes earlier this year and are hoping to buy a place in or near D.C. this summer. Going through this process has allowed us to explore new neighborhoods and experience parts of the city that up until now were unknown to us - it's really exciting!
5. Where do you see yourself going in the next 10 years?
In terms of location, we're pretty set on D.C., but who knows? I love my job, and I have no plans to look elsewhere. But if I do, I'd like to stay in government relations.
6. Any advice to Trailblazers who are starting college next year?
If you have the option to get out of your comfort zone and live somewhere you haven't before, do it. College offers a four-year (or maybe longer) opportunity to try something new, so don't be deterred from exploring.
Be open-minded about what life may have in store for you. I was admitted to WUSTL on the condition that I'd have to wait until January to start my first full semester. I was angry about this at first, and I considered choosing a different school even though WUSTL had been my first choice. Instead, I decided to use my fall semester in LA to be productive. I took classes at a community college and gained transferable credits, spent some more time at home and with family, and even flew out to St. Louis every now and again to participate in a program specifically designed for spring admits. I still graduated on time with the rest of my peers and everything worked out. It was a valuable experience, and I'm glad I did it.