Montana State University

Billie Brown balances a half-dozen roles

May 3, 2007 -- By Carol Flaherty


Billie Brown with a patient while a nursing student at MSU. Photo by Doug Loneman.   High-Res Available

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Maybe it started when she was perched atop a horse and her legs were about 18 inches long, but Billie Brown says trying to balance is a big part of her life.

The soon-to-be nursing graduate at Montana State University has balanced work, school and family throughout a bachelor's of science degree from Jamestown College in North Dakota, a master's in science education from MSU Northern, and now her nursing education.

"The nursing degree has pulled me to the limits," Brown said. Balancing her nursing education with the needs of her 7-year-old son Ryle, a first grader at Bozeman's Irving School, has "really challenged" her.

She said finding balance was especially difficult about half way through her first semester as a junior, and again at that point when she was a senior. "I just felt overwhelmed. I had to take inventory of my priorities, and it all came back to family," she said. "I haven't questioned my nursing program one bit, but I had to get priorities back to family."

That emphasis comes from a lifetime of defining herself within the context of her family.

"Even now, if I get up anywhere to introduce myself, I say, 'My name is Billie Brown. I'm Gros Ventre and Assiniboine from Fort Belknap. My parents are Joseph and Lila Brown,'" the 34-year-old said. "We just always operated as a unit. There is constant support. I am supporting . . . They are supporting me in every way."

Even though she said she wanted to be close to family, "I always had the expectation to go on to school."

Brown said growing up as a rodeo competitor also helped shape her values. "I was in my first rodeo when I was three," she said, adding, "I guess I was trying to keep up with my two older brothers." At 10 years old, she traveled throughout Canada and the United States, winning her way to the Indian National Finals Rodeo, where she competed in barrel-racing. "I learned a lot of responsibility through rodeo, taking care of the horse, growing up on the ranch, traveling, meeting people, handling myself in public, budgeting my winnings."

After her first degree, she worked in Ohio for a couple of years, and said she "just wanted to get back to Montana" and work on one of its reservations. When she returned, she began teaching at Fort Belknap College and Chief Dull Knife College, and completed her masters degree while working full time and beginning to raise her son.

Since teaching at the Tribal Colleges and coming to the MSU campus, she said she benefited from the mentoring of Sara Young, the former director of the American Indian Research Opportunities program. She has also worked in the College of Nursing's "Caring for Our Own Program," an effort to recruit and graduate minority students to nursing who plan to go back to their reservations. She also worked with the "Rockin' the Rez" campus effort that travels to each community to recruit students to MSU from reservations in Montana and Northern Wyoming.

While all of this challenged her time-management skills, she has also kept a 3.42 grade point average, been a Cub Scout den parent, a T-ball assistant coach and a parent-volunteer at Irving School. Those and numerous other activities earned her the designation of MSU Rotary Student of the Month for April.

She said she makes time to be with Ryle, and they often study together.

"He knows more about homework than he probably ever will need. . ." she said. Because of her background in education, she says "I am always challenging him, but he definitely lets me know when I am pushing him too much. I learned early on not to try to push counting or reading down his throat, because he was going to balk. He's becoming a very good reader all on his own."

Brown said that when they're not studying together, the pair try to create quality time, often outdoors. They also dance together at pow wows and spend time with family in Lame Deer and Ft. Belknap whenever possible. Dancing with Ryle as soon as he was able to walk, along with learning more about spiritual practices, she said has "helped me to maintain a sense of home and my identity while living here in Bozeman and on campus."

"It provides a lot of strength," Brown said . . . and balance.

Contact: Billie Brown, billie.brown@myportal.montana.edu