While much of the Taylor community knows Grace Miller for her work as dean of natural and applied sciences, education, sociology and social work, few know that she is also a talented artist, former backpacking guide and National Park ranger, traveler to 32 countries, former missionary and mother of two children.
Miller, the youngest of four daughters, grew up in the Philippines. Both of her parents moved to the Philippines from China and worked as professors. She attended a bilingual school, at which she would learn each subject in the morning in English, and then relearn each subject again in the afternoon in Mandarin.
At age 10, Miller's family moved across the globe from the Philippines to Connecticut. As a student in America, she felt like no one really understood her or her background.
“It was just really hard because people just had no idea how to treat international students,” Miller said. “But that was transformative. It formed me. It helped me grow in my faith. I found a lot of shelter in the church and God has made me more empathetic towards those who are displaced.”
Miller proceeded to attend Duke University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in art and botany. Her passion for botany stemmed from her love and enthusiasm for plants, and her knack for art was inherited from her father, who was a Chinese art painter.
“(It) was a fun major because I was either out field tripping and looking at algae and ferns, or I was in the studio painting and sculpting,” Miller said.
She received her master’s degree at the University of California Davis, studying plant physiology, working mainly with rice. Her doctorate was earned at Purdue University, where she worked closely with corn.
Miller later began her postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland.
After spending time on the Chesapeake Bay studying nature, Miller began her career in higher education in Gordon College’s biology department, where she taught for 11 years.
Despite enjoying her time teaching there, she encountered various challenges in that position. For several years, Miller was the only woman in the entire natural sciences department at Gordon.
“During the division meeting — which is like math, physics, chemistry, biology — I was the only woman at that meeting,” Miller said. “I would drag the secretary to come into the meetings just so there would be two of us.”
Dealing with the many stereotypes and comments that come with being a woman in a male-dominated field was often frustrating for Miller. Although these stereotypes are still existent today, she feels as though women in fields like science have become more of a norm.
After her time at Gordon, Miller switched gears and moved to Fort Myers, Florida, where she worked as a seed bank director for an agricultural missions agency.
In this position, Miller was in charge of the agency's supply of seeds, growing them out and packaging them, aiding more than 100 countries. Today, she continues to support sustainable agriculture and is passionate about finding agricultural methods that are appropriate for areas around the world.
“I'm very interested in food security for the developing world,” Miller said. “So, whatever solutions we can come up with and partner with them, that excites me.”
After four years in Florida, Miller’s family switched gears once again. This time, they felt called to join the mission field. Miller, her husband and their two children packed up their things and moved to Morocco, where they worked at an orphanage.
Miller taught middle school and high school science, which was a tough transition for her coming from teaching higher education.
“College to middle school was a really hard switch,” Miller said. “I'd say it's easier to do middle school to college because one day, I'm lecturing about cell division and mitosis and I'm explaining cytokinesis and I turned around and my eighth graders were totally on the floor, rolling around, breaking pencils.”
Two years in Morocco passed, and then it was time for her family to move back to the U.S. Miller once again worked for Gordon College as an adjunct professor before getting a job at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) as a biology professor.
While working at IWU, the opportunity to become dean of sciences at Taylor came her way.
She enjoys being in administration because it allows her to use many of her strengths, such as her strength of being an activator.
“I love helping people reach their potential, encouraging them, and I'm an activator so I like to make things happen,” Miller said.
As dean of natural and applied sciences, Miller is not only in charge of 9 departments consisting of around 92 staff and faculty members, but she also teaches a class each spring called crops and society. In this class, she enjoys discussing the role of plants in students’ everyday lives.
She gets excited about the learning that takes place at Taylor and about empowering professors to reach their full potential.
“I want faculty to integrate faith and learning into every discipline into every activity into every lecture if possible because this is our Father's world,” Miller said. “Everything we see, everything we study, He created. So as we study, it should bring us closer to Him.”
When thinking about her journey and how she has approached and overcome obstacles in her life, Miller is reminded of her mother’s example.
Not only was her mother one of the first women in China to earn a law degree, but she was a writer, professor and political scientist.
Miller admires her mother for her great accomplishments, but more importantly, for her positive attitude and strong, unwavering faith.
“She's been through a lot, but I never heard her complain or whine; for someone who was a refugee who had to leave her country and immigrate twice, once to the Philippines, once to the U.S.,” Miller said. “In all the hardships, I never heard her complain. She always was content where she was.”
She hopes to reflect the example of her mother the best she can and aspires to become more excited about Jesus every day.
“You can talk about career, you can talk about your marriage, your family, but if Jesus is not the one thing that fires you up, then all the other accomplishments will not be meaningful,” Miller said.
Tuesday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day celebrating the incredible achievements of women and ways they contribute to society. Miller’s story is one that is definitely worthy of highlighting in honor of this special day.