Feature: Bill Russo’s journey from the university to assistant secretary of state

MACAYLA COOK
Staff Reporter

As a psychology major from Exton, Pennsylvania, Bill Russo entered the university in 2005 dreaming of becoming a psychiatrist. 

His younger self would be stunned by where he has ended up – as the assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs.

“I knew my North Star for what I wanted in my career – and in life – was service in some way,” Russo said.

Russo ended up graduating from the university with an honors BA in political science, history and English. He attributes going down this path to the university’s ability to provide “flexibility” as he figured out what he wanted to do, particularly in one class.

In the fall of his sophomore year, Russo enrolled in a course with Edward Freel, a former secretary of state of Delaware. This course required an internship, meaning a 19-year-old Russo was thrust into the middle of Delaware’s at-large congressional race having never worked a campaign.

“One of the lessons I took away is to say, ‘Yeah, no, of course I do communications,’” Russo said, recounting that the campaign manager noticed WVUD, the campus radio station, on his resume.

This led to Russo taking over the campaign’s communications. He ran profiles for the campaign on MySpace and Facebook, published various press releases and scheduled press conferences.

This is not to say he did all of this successfully. Russo emphasized that this internship was not only a great opportunity to learn but also to fail.

Gianna Houck/THE REVIEW

“I set up a press conference to talk about jobs at the Port of Wilmington, and zero reporters showed up,” Russo said. “And so I was like, ‘Hey, let’s go talk to some union workers,’ and I took some pictures and posted them on social media and tried to make the best of it.”

After his experience with this internship, Russo had developed a keen interest in politics, but he did not take up international relations until he studied in London during the fall semester of his junior year.

“It wasn’t a wild, wild change from what I was used to, but it was somewhere,” Russo said. “It was foreign, it was a different culture and a different experience. And that just made a little something click in my head in terms of my focus, my interest – and that changed a lot of things for me.”

Studying abroad gave Russo an opportunity to “engage the world outside,” which he also highlighted as a major part of a career in international affairs during his participation in the university’s International Education Week. Much of Russo’s job deals in foreign relations, so experiencing different parts of the world was valuable experience to have.

Prior to coming to the university, Russo had only been to two foreign countries. By the end of 2023, he will have traveled to 50 countries outside of the United States.

Russo also emphasized the importance of quick thinking and problem solving in government. A large part of his job is supervision, making these skills absolutely imperative.

“The most important trait to have is a kind of openness and flexibility, and a willingness to understand and accept when you don’t know the answer to something,” Russo said. “When someone makes an ask of you, to be willing to figure it out on the fly has served me well.”

Ultimately, Russo credited much of his career to the opportunities he was presented with while at the university and encouraged anyone looking to emulate his success to take part in everything the university has to offer.

“Take advantage of study abroad opportunities,” Russo said. “Take advantage of international exchange and those opportunities, because I think it can open a lot of doors that, until you are standing in front of it, you just might not even realize you’re there.”

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