Small town boy’s inspirations lead to 2019 Faculty Achievement Award
Thad Miller, DrPH, MPH, has been inspired by many influences in his life: family, his desire to serve others, the opportunity to create change in the world through research and action, and some good old fashioned values learned from a long line of salt-of-the-earth Erath County farmers.
But what most inspires Dr. Miller, winner of this year’s UNTHSC Faculty Achievement Award, is being a teacher.
As Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Systems in the School of Public Health, his graduate public health classes emphasize problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, interprofessionalism and collaborative, project-based work.
He has earned consistently high student rankings and is known as a professor who provides “substantial opportunities for growth and learning.”
Dr. Miller has served as both a researcher focused on the elimination of tuberculosis and as mentor to students working on the many related projects of this effort.
He is leader of the CDC’s Tuberculosis Epidemiologic Studies Consortium (TBESC) UNTHSC site – one of 10 funded TBESC sites across the country – and the North Texas TB Trials Consortium.
Much of Dr. Miller’s inspiration comes from his father, a much-admired, longtime high school educator who taught in the classroom until the time he died.
“My father had a love of learning; he saw students as what they could be, not what they were, and brought out their best,” he said. “His funeral service was overflowing, and even now, 20 years later, people still stop me in our little town to say how much he meant to them. I try to honor him by following his example.”
“Like my dad, I think my work teaching is probably the part of my job that will outlive me,” he said.
Passing on those same values to his own children has been important to Dr. Miller and his wife Kelly, a local pediatrician and TCOM graduate.
For as long as their two grown daughters can remember, the family has traveled to Mexico on their spring breaks, helping to set up visiting clinics and deliver medical supplies and services to remote communities through the non-profit group Mision de Candelilla, one of theinternational volunteer efforts that Dr. Miller has been drawn to over the years.
“Being a part of something like this really gives perspective,” Dr. Miller said. “You put your own needs on the shelf and spend the week serving others first. My family and I have gained as much from the friendships and experiences over the years as the people we have helped care for.”
In the small Erath County community that the Millers call home, the motto has always been “good begets good, and kindness and generosity will ripple out well beyond our own time and understanding,” Dr. Miller said.
“There is not one of us who doesn’t need the help of others from time to time. I’ve been a farmer all my life, and the child of farmers going back who knows how many generations,” he said. “We stand on the many shoulders of those whose hard work made our successes possible, and I know very few people who don’t work hard to make the world better in some way.”
The nominees for this year’s prestigious UNTHSC Faculty Achievement Award were selected by their peers for exemplary performance in the areas of teaching, research/scholarship, service and leadership, and Dr. Miller’s story is one great example of the way that faculty are impacting lives every day, both professionally and personally.
“Neighbors help neighbors. As my world has gotten bigger, so has how I view my neighborhood,” Dr. Miller said. “In my mind, it extends well beyond Erath County, beyond Fort Worth and UNTHSC, to all the world. Volunteer service, teaching and research are all part of a team effort to do right by those around us. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that for others?”