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Leading By Example Ben Bankston ’25 is finding opportunities at W&L to challenge himself in and out of the classroom.

Ben-Bankston-2-1WP-1140x760 Leading By ExampleBen Bankston ’25

“For me, the liberal arts has ended up meaning so much more than I expected when I came here.”

~ Ben Bankston ’25

Ben Bankston ’25, a Johnson Scholar from Forest, Virginia, majoring in economics and minoring in data science — business analytics, can often be seen running through campus or town. While he claims to be training for his upcoming Spring Term Abroad course, one could say that Bankston’s time on campus began at a full sprint.

Bankston will soon embark on a three-week pilgrimage from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, as part of a Spring Term course called Walking the Portuguese Caminho de Santiago, during which students study the Portuguese route to Santiago (Sant Iago) de Compostela and the cultural history of the Camino de Santiago, then walk the 144-mile route from Porto to Santiago. Bankston said he is doing his best to prepare for the physical demands of the course, co-taught by S. Blount Mason Jr. Professor of Spanish Jeff Barnett and Matthew Bailey, professor of Spanish.

“Everyone I have talked to who has done it has told me that it’s life-changing,” Bankston said. “I can’t wait to maximize my experience on the Caminho, both physically and mentally.”

Bankston arrived at W&L determined to make the most out of his college experience. While he initially thought he would major in chemistry, he quickly discovered a passion for economics that led him to not only major in the subject, but to get involved as a member of Washington and Lee Student Consulting (WLSC), a student-led organization that provides pro bono consulting services to businesses and not-for-profit community organizations. He will assume a director role with the organization in the fall.

“I have seen the directors before me prioritizing the best possible experience for club members and the clients we work with, and I want to carry on their leadership by better equipping teams with the tools they need for success and emphasizing the WLSC community that makes the organization so special,” Bankston said.

Katharine Shester, professor of economics, first met Bankston in her Women in the Economy course in Winter 2023 and is now his academic adviser. She said Bankston’s curiosity and enthusiasm made her class more enjoyable for everyone.

“Ben’s approach to courses is ideal,” said Shester, who will also be supervising Bankston’s honors thesis next year. “He truly wants to learn and doesn’t shy away from more rigorous courses.”

Bankston, a member of Lambda Chi Alpha, is also a peer counselor (PC) and a member and general co-chair for the first-year orientation committee (FYOC), experiences that he says, along with his work with WLSC, have been the most impactful in his W&L career outside of the classroom. Bankston said he was inspired to apply to be a PC because he was deeply impacted by the PC team he got to know during his first year, and that the work has been a transformational aspect of his time at W&L.

“When I was applying as a first-year, I felt that if I had the opportunity to be there for other first-years, I would love nothing more than to do that, and I thought of it as something that was going to be my opportunity to give back to others in a way that I experienced when I first got to school,” Bankston said, “but it’s also been me learning so much more about myself and what it means to interact on a deeper level with other people. The ability to listen before speaking has been an amazing and applicable thing that I’ve learned, along with the connections and friendships that I’ve gotten to make with first-years over the last couple of years.”

When Bankston joined FYOC, he wasted no time making an impact, diving into his role and welcoming incoming students. Bankston hosted multiple virtual meetups for the Class of 2026 during the summer leading up to their arrival on campus and worked closely with other committee members as well as the Student Affairs team on orientation activities and other initiatives designed to keep the class connected throughout their first year. The project management skills he gained in this endeavor have also proved applicable in his work with W&L Student Consulting, where he can combine his love for economics with projects that provide valuable insights to local businesses.

Leah Beard, director of student engagement, first met Bankston through the 2021 virtual AIM Scholars Summer Program for incoming first-year students, and said she knew he was going to be a bright star on campus even then. Since then, she has had the opportunity to supervise Bankston in his role as a program adviser for the 2022 and 2023 virtual AIM Scholars Summer Program, served as an adviser to him in his role as a master of ceremonies and member/co-chair of the Leadership Excellence Awards Committee and co-taught a section FYE 100 with him.

“So often in my career,” Beard said, “I meet students who seek out leadership roles to build an impressive resume for themselves. I applaud students for this; but Ben’s intentions for striving for his current and future leadership roles has never been about building his resume. Instead, his decisions have been intentional. Ben seeks out opportunities that not only challenge him to learn and grow, but that make a larger impact on our community and on individuals.”

Bankston said he is also grateful for the way that his study abroad experiences have helped him achieve his personal goals. Last summer, he interned at WatGen, a solar energy startup in Santiago, Chile, through the IES Summer Abroad program. Along with three other interns from across the United States, Bankston worked with WatGen to develop a business and marketing plan for their proprietary, solar-powered generators. Bankston received a CIE Summer Grant that provided financial support for his internship.

“A goal that I’ve had for myself since arriving at W&L has been to improve my Spanish language abilities, which I started developing in high school,” Bankston said. “I’ve had the chance to study abroad for two Spring Terms on four-week, Spanish-immersion trips to Costa Rica and Spain. My internship abroad gave me the chance to combine professional experience in a culture more unique than I’ve ever experienced. These experiences helped me build the strong Spanish foundation that I had hoped for.”

IMG_9087WP-576x768 Leading By ExampleBankston in Chile’s Atacama Desert in a geyser field called “El Tatio”

Bankston has also put his Spanish language skills to work in the greater Rockbridge area as community outreach and development co-chair for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), an organization that provides a variety of resources to the surrounding community He is particularly proud of the opportunity he had to tutor students at a nearby elementary school last fall as part of a community-based learning course, using ESOL resources and his Spanish language skills to provide English language tutoring to native Spanish speakers.

Both of Bankston’s prior Spring Term Abroad experiences were also taught by Barnett, who said he looks forward to having Bankston once again for his class in Portugal.

“This year will be the third Spring Term Abroad in a row that Ben has been one of my students. In 35 years of teaching, that has never happened,” said Barnett. “Over the past three years, I’ve watched him grow and become completely immersed in Hispanic culture. The three experiences are very distinct, but they all require resilience, resourcefulness and discipline. Ben is a model student and a wonderful cultural ambassador. He always lifts the spirit of the various groups, which is not always an easy task when you’re abroad, especially at times when you are struggling with language barriers and cultural differences.”

Bankston has an internship in Atlanta this summer with a management consulting firm, and says he looks forward to getting real-world experience in what he hopes will be his career path after graduation. Bankston said he is grateful to have been able to take courses on topics such as philosophy, artificial intelligence and foreign language during his time at Washington and Lee, and credits W&L with offering him the flexibility to explore while preparing him for his future.

“For me, the liberal arts has ended up meaning so much more than I expected when I came here,” Bankston said.

DSC01787-1140x760 Leading By ExampleBen Bankston ’25 received the G. Holbrook Barber Scholarship Award at the 2024 Leadership Excellence Awards.

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