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My First-Gen Story: Ralph ‘Buz’ McDonald ’80
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
My father worked for an oil company in Vermont, and I spent my summers working with him. I had always thought about a career in business. My uncle had a degree in electrical engineering and a long career at IBM. He became an early role model for me.
I started college at the University of Vermont, but only stayed a semester. The classes were huge, about 300 to 400 people; also, I was 17 and probably not ready to bear down. Then I went to Champlain College, a two-year school in Burlington. One of my accounting professors, Champ Soncrant, suggested I consider his alma mater: “You know, Buz, you should take a look at Bentley.”
One of my friends happened to attend Bentley, so I visited him a few times to get a feel for what it was like. The small class sizes were attractive to me, and the rest is history. To make college work, I had to get some money together. I applied for grants, had a campus job in the gym, and worked during the summers. I knew I had the ability and desire to succeed, but not necessarily the reassurance. Bentley gave me that confidence. I learned to manage time, manage money and be strategic. These are great assets for a graduate to take out into the world.
I spent my career in the petroleum industry. First, 16 years at Koch Industries; then I worked for Chevron Corporation and moved to the West Coast. I was asked to relocate again, but thinking about it, I decided to take a chance. I thought, “If I could be successful for someone else, I could be successful on my own.” Now I’m a trader/broker in petroleum; it’s not particularly sexy, but it has allowed me to have a successful career.
I’m the oldest of four siblings, so I was able to lead by example. They all went to college — my mother was particularly proud of that — and they all have done very well in life. Sadly, my father died when I was 25 so he never got to see our professional success. I don’t think I could have imagined 40 years ago I’d have the successes I’ve had. It’s been part hard work, part luck and part timing. I wouldn’t want anything to change.
Buz was featured as a “Trailblazer of the First Degree” in the spring 2019 issue of Bentley Magazine. Read the full story.
The Black United Body fashion show, organized and put on by students, provides an outlet for students' fashion creativity and highlights on-campus diversity at Bentley.