Published: May 20, 2019
Thad Miller, DrPH, MPH, School of Public Health Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Systems and this year’s UNTHSC Faculty Achievement Award winner, has been inspired by many influences in his life: family, his desire to serve others through faith and community, 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 inspires Dr. Miller the most is being a teacher.
Through his graduate public health classes that 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.”
As 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, he has served as both a researcher focused on TB elimination and as mentor to students working on the many related projects of this effort.
It seems that some of his proudest moments are when UNTHSC students present their research to CDC committees and move on to their next career opportunities.
A good deal of Dr. Miller’s inspiration comes from his father, a much-admired, longtime high school teacher who was present in the classroom up 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,” Dr. Miller 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 the international volunteer efforts that Dr. Miller has been drawn to over the years.
Unfazed by language barriers, the Miller girls and local children would reunite at each visit, playing outside during clinic hours and building lasting friendships over family group dinners later.
“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 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?”