News + Ideas

MGAC Impacts: Jason Bell on Stoking Fires, Bobbleheads, and Building a More Inclusive Industry


Jason Bell and his wife, Elisa, and their children, Sloane and Stokely, at Disney World earlier this year.

The Impact Blog is a spotlight series that highlights and celebrates the diverse employees that make MGAC tick. Beyond their day-to-day schedules, we want to know how they have a greater impact on their colleagues, their company, and the communities in which they live and work. We want to know what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what led them to their current role, and what they hope their lasting impact will be.

Today, we get to know Jason Bell, Associate Director at MGAC.

MGAC: Hi, Jason! Welcome to the Impact Blog!

Jason Bell (JB): Thank you! Great to be here!

MGAC: What is your role here at MGAC?

JB: I was recently named an Associate Director. My role is serving as a conduit for the client to turn their project into a reality—drawing out what they want and helping them organize and communicate how their internal and external stakeholders, architects, and engineers can help execute the plan. Essentially, I ensure everyone is honoring the owner’s vision throughout the project.

MGAC: That’s a great way to frame your work and congrats on the promotion!

JB: Thanks! I really like my role. I can be honest with everybody and serve as a mission-oriented team member. It takes a village, but I enjoy serving as the person who’s there to champion the goal and be a facilitator for the project as a whole. We’re just master coordinators and integrators, and that’s so rewarding.

MGAC: Sounds like you found the right fit. What led you to this role?

JB: Like many of my colleagues, I started out in the field on the general contracting side. I’ve been doing this for close to 20 years now and worked my way up from Assistant Manager and Project Engineer. I worked in DC, Atlanta, and California and moved to the owner’s side of things along the way. Eventually, after having two kids, my wife and I looked around and decided we wanted to be close to family and made our way back to DC. I found an opportunity with MGAC a little over two years ago and have been here ever since.

MGAC: That’s great. How many kids do you have?

JB: I have a nine-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son. They keep me busy!

MGAC: Speaking of kids, did you see yourself ending up in this industry when you were younger? 

JB: I’d say yes. As a kid, I thought I wanted to be an architect. I grew up in the Bay Area, and I’ve always been fascinated with the buildings and bridges there. Seven bridges cross the bay, and I was always drawn to bridge construction and construction for withstanding earthquakes—another key factor there. My dad is an engineer and suggested I consider being an engineer to learn how to build these things myself.

MGAC: Did you take his advice? 

JB: Well, I ultimately decided to go into civil engineering. I took my first structural engineering design class at UVA—still thinking I wanted to pursue design and architecture—and confirmed architecture was not for me! But in my fourth year, I took a construction management crash course and immediately loved seeing all aspects of that work. You had to know how the building went together—the engineering portion of it. You have to worry about the cost and the timeline and coordinating all the people—the project management aspect. And I’ve worked in that arena ever since.

MGAC: That’s wonderful.

JB: It’s great to go outside, put your boots and hard hat on, and see the very real, tangible structure you helped build. It’s fun, and I’m thankful to have that much fun simply doing my job! Not everyone has that kind of workday to look forward to. There are tough projects, of course, but I’ve always been a team person, and this is a real team sport. Often, you look back, and there might have been 500 or 1,000 people on a project site at some point or another. That kind of thing sticks with me and keeps me here in this industry.

MGAC: We’re glad to hear it. Speaking of projects, what’s keeping you busy these days?

JB: Right now, my hands are in a few different pots. Right before this, I was on a call with Gallaudet University. They are a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Downtown DC and are currently working on a campus expansion. I’ve been learning a few sign language phrases for that! I’m also helping a client regain control of an apartment building that has gone into default. And, I’m involved in pursuing some key projects—here in DC and as far as Florida. There’s a lot going on!

MGAC: Sounds like a lot of impactful work.

JB: Absolutely. One of the reasons that I came to MGAC is the types of projects the team is involved in: things like an embassy, the MLK Library, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s really important work. I hope to continue to do that work here while, across the industry, positioning engineering and sciences to be more appealing to persons of color and historically underrepresented folks.

MGAC: That’s great. We understand you’re involved in a special MGAC initiative with that in mind?

JB: Yes! Here at MGAC, we are starting an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for persons of color on the team, and I’m helping get that off the ground. My hope is that the ERG helps to draw diverse people to architecture, engineering, and project management through that spotlight. Being able to look around and see people who look like you at higher levels who have come up and have been successful shows that you can do that. In turn, those diverse perspectives allow us to continue to deliver meaningful projects.

MGAC: You’re certainly making a big impact here at MGAC. What at MGAC has made an impact on you?

JB: I’m consistently impressed by the quality of people I work with at every level and function. We attract really talented individuals who are also good people—people who are knowledgeable and who you like working with. I also enjoy seeing the inherent diversity of our team when I go to the office or log into a call within MGAC. It is impactful because you don’t often see that. In the past, there were years when I’d be in a trailer or on a call as the only person of any color on the team. Here, we have women leading projects, people of color leading projects. There’s also a culture where talent is truly seen as a resource, and everyone is encouraged to speak up, regardless of seniority. The team is going to back you because they know your voice adds to the conversation in a meaningful way.

MGAC: You bring so much positive perspective and energy to the office. Where does all of it come from?

JB: Not to be too sappy or sentimental, but I think it comes from my kids and trying to set an example for them. I love to encourage them to do whatever they’re interested in and stoke that fire with positive encouragement.

MGAC: What are their interests right now?

JB: My daughter is a budding artist and video maker. It’s so cool how different her talents are from mine. I’m an engineer, a 90-degree angles kind of guy, and she’s so creative! We share the same sense of humor, though! And my son is a huge sports nut and very linear and detail-oriented, like I am. I really enjoy being able to coach him. Their mom and I try to support all of their different endeavors. Part of loving my job comes from knowing that working ensures I can nurture their dreams! It means I can bring them places and show them things, so their worldview isn’t just the 10 miles around Fairfax, VA.

MGAC: That’s great. Between work and family, you keep a busy schedule. How do you unwind at the end of the day?

JB: I love to play video games, and my wife and I listen to podcasts almost every night. I am trying to start reading more—which hopefully will get me in bed earlier so I have more energy. And I also try to get to the gym two to three times a week.

MGAC: Awesome. Are you ready for some rapid-fire questions?

JB: Sure!

MGAC: You’re starting your workday. What’s the first thing you do?   

JB: Check my phone.

MGAC: And the last thing?   

JB: Write my notes.

MGAC: The first item on your to-do list right now is what?    

JB: Check on some insurance for one of my projects.

MGAC: What is the most interesting thing we might find in your desk or work bag right now?

JB: I always have lotion, so I don’t have ashy hands. It used to be a hair pick, but I don’t have any hair!

MGAC: What can’t you get through the workday without?

JB: Coffee, definitely! It’s unfortunate, but true!

MGAC: What’s your go-to workday lunch?

JB: A salad from the PRET. It’s quick and just a block from the office.

MGAC: What’s the most-used app on your phone? 

JB: Personal phone: Instagram. Work phone: Teams.

MGAC: How would you describe your job in five words or less?

JB: Organize and communicate through chaos!

MGAC: What’s your 2023 work goal?

JB: Become more recognized within the company as a mentor.

MGAC: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

JB: Don’t trade what you want right now for what you want in the long run.

MGAC: What’s a new industry trend that you’re really excited about?

JB: The embrace of technology. We no longer spend thousands on printing costs for plans because it’s on your computer, tablet, or phone! And we’re using BIM and 3D models for projects. It’s all really cool!

MGAC: Looking to the future, how do you think our industry will have changed?

JB: More technology integrated into buildings will allow more people and systems to talk to each other.

MGAC: What’s something that will never change?

JB: Phone calls are better than emails.

MGAC: You’re managing your dream project. What is it?

JB: A stadium or sports entertainment venue in the Bay Area. Ideally for the 49ers—but they just got a new stadium not too long ago!

MGAC: What are you known for in the office?

JB: My good attitude and desk bobblehead collection. It includes Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and a Mandalorian.

MGAC: What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you? 

JB: I used to work for a cookie-making business in high school. It was possibly my best job ever!

MGAC: Where would we find you if you’re not at work?

JB: Often, playing basketball with my son. And right after this, I’ll be running my daughter to a camp!

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