Editors note: This story was originally produced by the McCormack Graduate School and appeared on the UMass Boston News web pages.
The study of aging and the practice of mentorship have many things in common – perhaps none more pronounced than how each pursuit emphasizes the personal journeys and the interpersonal relationships we forge and foster along the way. At the McCormack Graduate School, our collective commitment to public service, reflected in interdisciplinary education and cutting-edge research, is a shared endeavor to understand and remedy some of the most crucial social, political, economic, and environmental issues of our time.
To age is to grow together. For Eddie Miller, professor and chair, Department of Gerontology, previously the graduate program director (GDP) of the PhD Program in Gerontology for 8 years, that has meant playing a role in shaping many milestones and meaningful moments with students throughout his career. Miller’s approach to teaching and mentorship was celebrated when he was selected to receive the 2021 GPD Award for Outstanding Student Mentorship, one of the four awards presented by the Dean’s Office Student Success (DOSS) during the recent End of Year Celebration and Award Ceremony – a well-deserved recognition of the role he plays in supporting students and their successes.
“I was really touched by receiving the 2021 GPD Award for Outstanding Student Mentorship, which came as a complete surprise,: said Miller. “I am honored to be recognized for my mentorship.”
Miller also shared the excitement of his family, encapsulated in a congratulatory social media post from his wife that reads: “For someone who spends countless hours on their research, providing painstakingly detailed feedback, responding so quickly, and prioritizing student’s needs above other pressing job responsibilities, Eddie sure deserves this.”
Miller received the award during the virtual ceremony from one of his mentees and former students, Emily Lim. “As the graduate program director, professor Miller is a great advocate for our graduate students’ academic success in the Department of Gerontology,” said Lim.
“As my academic advisor, professor Miller helped me to improve my academic writing to become a stronger writer when I worked on my master’s thesis. It was a tough process, but it was rewarding in the end. Without his mentorship, I would not have a successful master’s thesis,” she said. “Nine doctoral candidates successfully defended their dissertations under his leadership as our GPD during this pandemic season (2020-2021). Our department also celebrated our 100+ PhDs this year. All in all, Professor Miller is an outstanding GPD who is committed to student mentorship and academic success.”
Any relationship, especially those forged and strengthened between mentor and mentee, can play a significant role in shaping experiences that become meaningful and memorable moments. Reflecting on his own journey and the mentors that have helped him along the way, Miller shared an inflection point from his undergraduate career as a student.
“I spent a semester during my last year in college in Washington D.C., working for the Congressional Research Service in the Library of Congress, which, together with being the son of older parents, sparked my interest in long-term care.,” said Miller. “A year later, while in a master’s program, one of my professors suggested a career path, writing me a note saying ‘Ed you are one of the strongest students I’ve ever had, and you should really get a PhD in health services or a related field’ — and I did not even think that was an option… so then I did that.”
“I was interested professionally and personally and it all kind of snowballed from there. I have spent the last 35 years studying gerontology,” said Miller.
Serving as a mentor is a responsibility he takes seriously. “As a GPD, you just have a unique perspective because you really get to know all of the students that enter the program. Through this role, I had the opportunity to speak to and advise most of them during their academic careers from the very beginning,” Miller said. “I’ve found that being with and supporting students as they hit each stage of their program – from their coursework to getting their research practicums done, completing their qualifying exams, defending their dissertations, conducting their job searches and afterwards – to be one of the most gratifying parts of the job.”
Miller, who serves as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Aging & Social Policy, became chair of the Gerontology Department at the beginning of the fall semester. When asked about his priorities for the upcoming school year, Miller pointed to the importance of compassion, innovation, and engagement.
“Is there a way we can get older adults more involved in fulfilling experiences like volunteering that reduce social isolation while also serving their communities? For example, we created a program focused on intergenerational learning where older adults partner with kids in underserved communities who need help with reading,” Miller said. “It’s an illustration that there are so many opportunities that each of us can pursue – individually and together – to have a positive impact. As chair, that is going to continue to be a priority for me going forward.”
About McCormack Graduate School
The McCormack Graduate School was founded in 2003 to create a dynamic academic and research center in policy studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The school was built upon the foundation of its predecessor, the McCormack Institute, established in 1983 and named in honor of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John W. McCormack. In 2010, we changed our name to the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies to better reflect our expanded global mission. Nationally recognized as a model for public service schools, the McCormack Graduate School is committed to social justice and equity. We offer an interdisciplinary education and conduct cutting edge research that seeks to understand and remedy some of the most important social, political, economic, and environmental issues of our time. We welcome new students, research partners, and community collaborators to help us build a better world for all. Noting the public service mission of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, BestValueSchools.com ranks UMass Boston 29th in its list of the 50 Most Innovative Public Service Schools in the United States. To learn more, visit mccormack.umb.edu.