MSSU degree takes Billington places

MSSU degree takes Billington places

MSSU degree takes Billington places

Luke Taylor

He’s worked for the West Valley View, the Arizona Farm Bureau, the American Correctional Association and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

He’s been to Australia, France, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua.

He’s now living in Washington, D.C. and working for Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) as the primary media and communications staff member.

And when McDonald Co. farm boy Jeff Billington graduated from Missouri Southern in 1999, he didn’t see himself coming this far.

“I had a pretty limited view of what I could achieve at that point in my life,” says Billington. “Ten years ago I imagined I might be the editor or owner of a small paper somewhere.”

Billington, who didn’t come to Southern seeking a job that required a lot of writing, was encouraged to join the Chart staff by then-advisor Dr. Chad Stebbins.

“I saw a great deal of promise in Jeff Billington when he was a student in my Newswriting class and encouraged him to get involved with the Chart,” said Stebbins. “He ended up becoming editor-in-chief of the newspaper and since then has enjoyed a successful career in the field of communication. I always appreciated Jeff’s interest in history and politics, especially his knowledge about the traditions of the Chart.”

Billington has always had a great interest in politics, especially for the Democratic Party. He has a Harry Truman picture hanging in the office at his home.

“I’ve always liked him because he, like me, was a Missouri farm boy and he was a good one for telling it like it is; not a lot of fluff or rhetoric, but out there and open about his thoughts and why he made the decisions he made, even the controversial ones.”

Truman’s philosophy reflects Billington’s attitude in D.C. politics.

“I have respect for people that look beyond just talking for the sake of talking and actually have a point to make.”

Post-graduation life

In 2000, Billington moved from Missouri to the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz., taking a job with the West Valley View, a weekly newspaper with a circulation of around 50,000.

“I interviewed for it by phone and moved to Phoenix completely blind, having never been there in my life until the day I pulled up in my U-Haul,” Billington said.

There, Billington covered local politics and most aspects of suburban city Avondale, Ariz. He also made connections with Congressman Raul Grijalva; General Janet Napolitano, then-Arizona Attorney General and now the Secretary of Homeland Security; and current Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

From there, he became the communications manager for Arizona Farm Bureau, where he liked having the opportunity to work where his McDonald County background let him understand the conditions of farming life

“I enjoyed the job, but most of the people there and the members were a lot more politically conservative than I was,” he says. “This didn’t cause any conflicts with anyone there, but some of the statements and issues they dealt with were not to my personal agreement.”

Billington was then offered a job at a public relations firm in Rockville, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. and where he once again blindly moved across several states to a new life.

“I had also never been to D.C., so once again, the first I saw of that area was when I was pulling my U-Haul up in front of my new apartment building.”

He didn’t enjoy the job at the firm very much because of a verbally abusive boss, and described it as a “miserable experience.” After three months he was laid off, but he remembered the positives.

“It got me out to Washington, D.C., and it gave me a prime example of the type of boss not to be like.”

After that, worked for the American Correctional Association, and after that was offered a job a for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, an organization that does advocacy work for providing legal help to the poor, both in civil legal cases and in public defense.

“It helped that the organization is pretty liberal as far as politics go, matching my personal leanings.”

After four years, he left this job for his current position with Richardson.

“It’s not easy to break into a Capitol Hill job, especially when you don’t have a degree from a well-known school,” says Billington. “There is a flood of Ivy Leaguers up on the Hill to compete against…a guy who went to Missouri Southern has a lot of competition when aiming for a job there.”

However, it was his experience with Missouri Southern’s international programs that led to his qualification to work on Richardson’s staff.

“When I saw the opening for Congresswoman Richardson’s office, I jumped on it, not just because I wanted a job on the Hill, but because from how the description was written I knew they were looking for broader experience.”

The position required knowledge of international relations; something Billington took advantage of when he was a Southern student.

International involvement

“The international mission was a huge part of my college experience,” Billington said. “Through what it offered, I was able to really see firsthand how the rest of the world operates. It gave me a real appreciation of the world, from the tragic conditions I saw people living in Nicaragua to the beautiful rainforests of Costa Rica, and just wandering the streets of Paris.

“All these trips inspired me in multiple ways, to be a better person, to be a better writer and to work for a better world, preserving both the people and the planet. Had I gone to any other college, I know I could not have replicated these experiences.”

Stebbins agrees.

“Jeff completely embraced MSSU’s international mission at a time when it was in its infancy, and took advantage of a couple of opportunities to do some international reporting,” Stebbins said.

Billington said he is sad to see how the international program is being “sidelined” by the University. The program has lost 40 percent of its budget in the past two years.

“I can’t believe how blind they are in seeing the incredible benefit the program is, such as propelling a McDonald County farm boy to working in the halls of Congress…If the college hopes to continue to turn out graduates with a real thirst for achievement and the ambition to make an impact in their communities and the world, it needs to preserve this program and expand it.”

Advice for Southern students

Billington says students who want to succeed will need to have dedication to their job.

“For my last two jobs, I’ve had to compete against people from wealthy families with lots of connections and degrees from some of the most glamorous universities in this country…I think career and personal happiness stems from how you do your job, so it is important to be dedicated to your job, to always work the best job possible and to really understand what you are working on and the broader implications of it.”

He also says meeting deadlines and attention to detail are important.

“I don’t think those two things can be overstressed.”

As far as his future goes, Billington is enjoying where he is now.

“I really enjoy living in the Washington, DC area and I also enjoy the feeling of working towards a greater good. But, I don’t think I’d want to run for any political office higher than city council, just because of the headaches that I know come with the responsibility of elected officials.”

“With that said, I look forward to working on the Hill for the next several years and I would be interested in possibly serving as the executive director of a national nonprofit that works to improve life for under-served communities.”