Alum Spotlight: Owen Highfill, Federal Housing Finance Agency

What’s the key to occupational success?
Work (and think) outside the box!


      Most would never expect an English major to end up working for the federal government, but JMU alum Owen Highfill didn’t limit herself to what was “expected”. A 2006 JMU graduate, Highfill had plans of going for her doctorate in English literature to become a professor, but stumbled upon the opportunity to serve as an employee of the U.S. government.
       During her pursuit of a master’s degree at the University of Georgia, she attended a career services presentation about federal jobs, and was intrigued by what the presenter had to say. According to Highfill, “The presenter said, ‘Anything you want to do in the private or nonprofit sector, you can do in the federal government’, which was something I hadn’t considered in my job search up until that point. My main objective in finding a job after school was to find a career that allowed me to make a difference. During that presentation, I realized that being a civil servant would be a meaningful way to contribute to my country. So I applied to the Presidential Management Fellows program, which is how I began my federal career.”

Owen Highfill, Conservatorship Operations Specialist

      Since Highfill began her career with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (a merger of the former  Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, Federal Housing Finance Board and the mission office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), she has taken part in tackling several important housing issues facing American citizens. Through this Highfill has been able to make a positive difference in the lives of others, which she had originally hoped to do through teaching.

      Of course, she attributes much of her success to her experiences and education at JMU. Says Highfill, “I continually see evidence that a solid liberal arts background is invaluable. I’ve learned that my ability to communicate effectively is the most important skill I have in the workplace. The ability to think critically, do research, and communicate clearly in writing and verbally are all skills I developed at James Madison University. It doesn’t matter how innovative and original an idea is if you can’t effectively communicate it.” 
      Highfill’s JMU experiences outside of the classroom are also extremely valuable to her. She recalls her first few hours on campus, spending time with her FrOG group, and meeting other students in her building. She says, “In that group, I met my future roommate and began some of the lasting friendships of my JMU family who have been an important part of my adult life.” She also remembers the challenges of college, such as completing her honors thesis. She recalls, “It was a culmination of multiple semesters of hard work, tears, and driving my thesis advisor and readers crazy with questions and rewrites. I was so relieved to have it finished but also so thankful for the experience of working with talented professors and learning about myself along the way.”
      Highfill encourages current students to keep an open mind when approaching the job market. In reflection she says, “If I had not kept an open mind about job opportunities and different career paths, I would have missed out on a unique opportunity to learn something new and work for the betterment of my country.”
If you have questions about working for the federal government, contact Owen Highfill at, or visit
By Kelly Gooch


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