Brian van de Graaff, BA Speech Communication ’97, delivers the weather forecast each day as part of the Storm Watch 7 team on the Washington, D.C., area’s ABC television affiliate.
Born in Arlington and raised in the rural communities of Culpeper and Madison, Virginia, van de Graaff was always interested in weather, broadcasting, and media. When it was time to go to college, Mason’s proximity to Washington, D.C., drew him to the campus, where he truly fell in love with the university. “Although a large school with a vast campus, the community felt tight-knit,” van de Graaff reflects. “I have many fond memories and great friends from GMU.”
The highlight of van de Graaff’s studies at Mason were his production classes, which gave him hands-on experience. “My professors would describe me as a solid student who was always eager to learn,” he says. “Communication professors Susie Tomasovic, Katherine Mangus, and Roger Smith had a unique impact on my time at Mason.”
Soon after graduating from Mason, van de Graaff began his first job as a marketing assistant at television station WUSA 9, which eventually led to his successful career as a meteorologist.
“I have always been interested in the weather. When I realized that I could make a career out of a hobby and a passion, it clicked.” Although van de Graaff has earned the prestigious American Meteorological Society Seal of Approval for television weather-casting, he feels his biggest achievement to date has been securing a full-time position in a top 10 market station before the age of 30.
What does it take to be a meteorologist besides a solid education in meteorology and a background in communications? Long hours and a packed schedule, van de Graaff says. “I wake up very early, around 2:30 a.m. and arrive at work by 3:30 a.m. to begin the intensive on-air schedule, which includes 28 television and radio updates in four hours.” He then makes school and publicity visits. Van de Graaff speaks at several schools a week, many times at multiple locations in one day. He travels to these locations in Storm Chaser 7, a vehicle equipped with weather instruments that serve as excellent tools to teach children about weather and weather safety. He then returns to the station for the mid-day news. “My work day ends at 12:30 p.m. unless there is an after-work community event.”
Van de Graaff lives in Fairfax, Virginia, with his wife, Kristen. When he gets a rare moment of free time, he enjoys working in his yard. “Now that I’m a homeowner, I spend a lot of time in the yard. I also love to travel and am often jetting off to some new location. While at home I enjoy a game of tennis with my wife or playing my Wii.” His recent trips have taken him to the Canary Islands, France, Italy, and Australia.
Supporting Mason is important to van de Graaff. An active alumnus on campus, van de Graaff helps out with a Mason summer camp for TV and is a frequent speaker in communication classes.
“I truly attribute my success in my career to GMU. The university provided me an excellent internship that turned into a job and eventually a career. Due to my proximity to the university, I see no reason why I wouldn’t be involved.”
“When I felt I was financially stable, I made the decision to give back. I hope to give another generation the chance to experience the same success I’ve achieved,” says van de Graaff. “It’s a way to show respect to the institution that molded me.”
Van de Graaff advises future Mason alumni to help the university stay strong and competitive. “A top-notch university will reflect well on you. Even a small donation can make a difference.”
To current students, van de Graaff offers one last bit of advice regarding their time at Mason, “The school has so much to offer. Be sure to take the time to take advantage of it all!”
This article first appeared in the Cornerstone, the college alumni magazine.