Alumni Spotlight: Ben Walker ’08
In His perfect timing, God always places the right people and the right opportunities in our paths to help nudge us toward bigger and better dreams than, perhaps, we have imagined for ourselves. Ben Walker credits his Westminster teachers for coming alongside him during his formidable high school years and pushing him toward excellence, leadership, and confidence in his natural skillsets and abilities.
Today, Ben works as an account strategist for Google Marketing Solutions at the company’s corporate campus in Ann Arbor, Mich. It’s a life path he says he never could have imagined himself on, had it not been for the constant encouragement and mentorship he received during his years at Westminster. “I adored the teachers I had at Westminster and still think about the ways so many of them made an impact on me,” says Ben. During his sophomore year in particular, he remembers the profound influence Larry Birchler had on him. “I was entering advanced courses for the first time, and I grew overwhelmed early in the year and tried to transfer out of the honors versions of the classes [Mr. Birchler] and Dr. Shaw taught.”
Ironically, at the time, Mr. Birchler served as both an upper school math teacher and the school’s registrar. In other words, Ben had to request course selection changes, including dropping Mr. Birchler’s honors classes, from Mr. Birchler himself. “He wouldn’t let me and expressed that I should be demanding more of myself. It turns out I ended up doing just fine in those classes, and the confidence I gained from seeing I could succeed in those challenging environments served as a major propellant in countless endeavors ever since. It was a small decision on his part, but I can’t imagine my life path looking the same without it.”
Following graduation from Westminster in 2008, Ben attended Indiana University, where he studied marketing, international business, and Mandarin Chinese. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2012, Ben looked for an occupation outside the business and marketing industry for his first few years out of college. “I decided instead to commit two years to Teach for America,” he says. “I ended up teaching language arts and remedial reading at a middle school in Oklahoma City.”
Ben found himself in the shoes of the very individuals who had made such an impact on him in high school. “I got more than a little repayment for the hard times I occasionally gave teachers at Westminster,” he says. “But I cherish that experience and appreciate the many teachers who inspired me with their commitment to the craft. Many come to mind, but Mr. Snyder, Dr. Shaw, Dr. Holley, and Dr. Gibson all stand out.”
In 2014 and following the completion of his two-year teaching commitment, Ben began working at Google. The transition brought a lifelong dream of his into reality. “It’s always been a dream of mine to work for a tech company like Google, given their commitment to innovation, outstanding work culture, and global impact,” says Ben. “As my time with Teach for America wound down, it felt like the right time to pursue that dream through connections I had from Indiana University and Teach for America. I eventually connected with people from a handful of tech companies and found a particularly appealing role in sales at Google.”
Today, as an account strategist, he specializes in consulting and strategizing with mid-sized businesses in Canadian markets. While his role focuses primarily on sales, Ben says he enjoys the consulting aspect of his job the most. “My role requires understanding each company’s business model and offering advertising strategies that help them achieve their goals as efficiently as possible.” Working toward successful solutions is a key component of Ben’s work, and he sees it as an especially rewarding part of his job.
“Working at such a large scale company exposes me to nearly every industry imaginable,” he says. “It’s so satisfying to finally figure out a strategy that makes a business successful, especially when we’re able to massively cut down on previous inefficiencies. Digital advertising is often much easier to measure than traditional forms like TV and print, meaning the impact of various changes is often extremely clear. It’s always rewarding to see a company’s sales numbers improve by degrees once a winning strategy is found.”
In addition to his client work, Ben also invests time in training new employees within his department. This year, he received a Googler to Googler Award for North and South America for his work onboarding new company hires. Although Ben mostly trains ‘Nooglers’ (Google terminology for new company employees) at the Ann Arbor office where he works, he has also had opportunities to onboard hires in various locations around the world. “I primarily onboard people in Ann Arbor,” he says, “but I’ve also led trainings for new employees in Mountain View, Calif. Most recently, the [Googler to Googler Award] allowed me to train a large start class of Nooglers in Dublin that will be serving markets across EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa).”
In all of his work with Google employees and clients, building strong business relationships can be both the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of his job, Ben says. “Managing relationships can be a major challenge given the scale at which we work,” he says. “It can get difficult when I find myself getting pulled in a dozen different directions with extremely diverse needs.”
Despite the challenges, however, Ben loves the opportunity to help others. Reflecting on his years as a teacher with Teach for America, Ben says he’s always had a knack and a passion for helping others learn and succeed. This same drive is evident as he trains new hires at Google. “I love what I do at Google, but I quickly found myself craving a classroom environment, too,” he says. “[Training new employees] allows me to help others succeed while constantly sharpening my own product knowledge. It’s also a refreshing change of pace and a great way to stay connected to the ever-changing group of people who work in the Ann Arbor office.”
When thinking back to his years in high school, Ben has no doubt about the influence his time at Westminster had on him. He sees the academic preparation he received at Westminster as helping him springboard into the professional world. “[Westminster’s] curriculum did a fantastic job of giving me complex assignments and a ton of freedom in how I approached them,” says Ben. “The autonomy we possess at Google means success is impossible without a self-starting mindset around ambiguity, and I’m grateful I was exposed to these types of challenges so regularly in high school.”
Ben sees the communications skills he learned through various writing and speech classes and through his involvement in Westminster’s We the People program as directly benefiting his work at Google. “It was impossible to graduate from Westminster without spending countless hours developing diverse written and verbal communication skills,” he says.
“Westminster granted me so many opportunities to research a subject, carefully develop an argument, and defend it in writing and speech. The school’s language arts program was, without exception, outstanding in this regard, as was Mr. Boesch’s We the People program. My day-to-day at Google requires learning about countless businesses in every industry imaginable and turning that knowledge into actionable recommendations I can defend. The stakes are different, but I’m lucky to have experienced many similar situations well before I graduated high school.”
Ultimately, Ben is thankful for the spiritual preparation and growth he experienced while at Westminster. “Westminster did an outstanding job preparing students to answer a watching world with ‘reasons for the hope we have’ (1 Peter 3:15) and showing us how much sense the world makes through a Christian lens,” he says. Both in the classroom and on the athletic field, Ben says Westminster teachers and coaches provided him with a consistent model of what it looked like to own his faith and talk about his faith with others. “Westminster exposed me to so many outstanding Christian role models, along with countless opportunities to examine and sharpen my faith in preparation for college and beyond.”
This commitment to spiritual and academic preparation is at the core of a Westminster education. It profoundly impacted Ben’s life, beginning his sophomore year at Westminster and continues to influence the high-impact work he accomplishes at Google. Westminster defines excellence as the individual and collective pursuit of becoming better than we once were. It’s this excellence – reflected in Ben’s story and the stories of over 3,000 Westminster alumni – that propels our graduates into the world, into kingdom work, to engage the world and forever change it for Jesus Christ.