It was love at first sight. “I’ll never forget watching the Rocky Mountains come into view on my first trip out west,” said C.W. Miller, a professor and associate head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences.
It was 1964 and Miller was driving to Colorado State University for graduate school after graduating from Purdue University. Miller tears up at the memory. His “cry gene” is one of many endearing qualities his colleagues and students will miss when he retires this month after a 48-year career as a scientist, educator, administrator, and leader at CSU.
Miller was always interested in science and looked up to his grandfather, a medical doctor, and his father, a forestry professor. He planned on attending medical school or veterinary school, but while on the waitlist for medical school received an offer from one of his former professors to follow him to CSU and be a graduate research assistant.
“I had never been out west and jumped at the chance to go,” Miller said. And he never looked back.
A quarter of a million minutes later
After earning a PhD in physiology from CSU, Miller briefly left Colorado for a postdoctoral position at the University of Washington before returning in 1970 to lead the physiology section of CSU’s Collaborative Radiological Health Laboratory. He held this position for a decade, conducting research on the health effects of radiation while also teaching physiology as an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, then called the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.
Miller climbed the ranks to professor and became associate head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and director of its undergraduate program, a role he’s held since 2005. He’s twice stepped into the role of interim department head, served as both chair and vice chair of the Faculty Council, was on the board of governors, and has volunteered for countless department, college, and university committees.
“C.W. Miller has had an influence on the growth and development of nearly every part of our university, as a scholar, professor, academic administrator, and through his more than 30 years of involvement with Faculty Council,” said CSU President Tony Frank. “His deep commitment to his students and his passionate advocacy for the rights and responsibilities of faculty both spring from the same place: a dedication to the university and a desire to ensure it delivers on its promise of academic excellence. I have worked with him in one capacity or another throughout my entire tenure at CSU, and I’m grateful for his tireless dedication to CSU and its students.”
Miller’s career has included serving as principal investigator on multiple grants, authoring over 40 publications and seven book chapters, teaching 15 different physiology classes, writing over 1,000 student reference letters, and delivering over 4,500 class lectures, which adds up to a about a quarter of a million minutes spent teaching students.
“C.W.’s service to the university, faculty, staff, and students is immeasurable,” said Mark Frasier, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences who taught at CSU for 33 years. “He has been a role model for all of us who see our jobs as serving a greater cause.”
While Miller enjoys the discovery aspect of research and the rewarding nature of administrative work that allows him to facilitate policy change, he especially loves teaching and is continuously inspired by the enthusiasm of his students. Being head of the undergraduate program allowed him to make unique and meaningful connections with both students and their parents. For Miller, the most rewarding aspect of his career is seeing what his students go on to do.
“Updates from students mean the world to me,” Miller said. “I love hearing from them when they’re excited about getting into medical school or landing a new job.”
One of the most memorable examples of former students reporting back to Miller was when NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren called him on his office phone to chat from the International Space Station, some 250 miles above the earth.
“That was just unbelievable,” Miller said. Lindgren worked closely with Miller while earning his Master’s degree in cardiovascular physiology from CSU 20 years before he launched into space to help study the effects of space flight on the human body.
Another career highlight was helping students organize and execute the first ever anatomy and physiology outreach program to nearly 900 students at the CSU Todos Santos Center in Mexico in 2017. “It was an incredibly uplifting and rewarding experience for everyone involved,” Miller said. The program was a huge success that not only helped inspire youth to get excited about science and health, but also expanded the horizons of biomedical sciences students by providing them with real-world, hands-on international outreach experience.
Miller is passionate that all students should strive to be well-rounded and develop good communication and problem-solving skills, in addition to acquiring the hard science knowledge and skills that come with their education. “I would like to see our undergraduate program mature into one of the best programs in the country, not only for preparing students for professional school but also for entering the workforce,” Miller said.
Miller models such well-roundedness not only in his varied professional involvements but also in his zest for life outside of work, which he generously shares with students and colleagues. So much so that he may even share the best spots to find the tastiest morel and chanterelle mushrooms in northern Colorado or his famous sweet dill pickle recipe.
Something to look forward to
“C.W. Miller is truly beloved by students and is all that one could ask for in a colleague,” said Colin Clay, professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences. “I have learned so much from him and admire so much about him, but perhaps at the top of the list is his sense of humor, boundless optimism and enthusiasm, and his ability to focus on the light and not be distracted by the dark. He seems to start every day with the question, ‘how can I help?’”
To honor Miller’s robust and diverse CSU career and the lasting impact he’s had, the Biomedical Student Association (BSA) surprised him with a reception of students, colleagues, and family at his last lecture.
“I’ll never forget the look on his face when he entered the auditorium,” said former BSA president Kenzie Isbell says. “Having so many people come together to show their admiration and appreciation for Dr. Miller speaks volumes to the kind of man that he is.”
Known as a storyteller, Miller’s last lecture contained pearls of wisdom gained from a life well lived. The many anecdotes and tidbits of advice he shared focused on a common theme of inspiring students to go out and be the best version of themselves. He encouraged them to try lots of things while also honing in on specific areas to excel in. To make time for their loved ones. To put down the phone once in a while and have a face-to-face conversation. To look for the best in people. To live with integrity, kindness, and gratitude. To be passionate, true to oneself, and to always keep a childlike sense of wonder and excitement for life and discovery.
Miller closed the lecture with a piece of advice that exemplifies his sunny outlook. He encouraged students to always having something to look forward to. In retirement, Miller is looking forward to spending more time with his family, including his two granddaughters. In addition to mushrooming, gardening, and cooking, Miller is excited to do more hiking, fishing, hunting, woodworking, landscaping, traveling, photography, and making notecards out of the photos he takes of nature scenes and the wildlife that visit his 47-acre Rist Canyon property.
Though he’s excited to embark on the next chapter of life, Miller still gets sentimental when he reflects on his career. “When I first started teaching here, we used blackboards and chalk, there was no such thing as Canvas or PowerPoint,” he said. “Those were different times but good times. I am really going to miss my colleagues and students and learning about their successes and challenges. I think I’m ready to retire but it’s still kind of a shock, 48 years went by so fast.”
Colorado State University Diversity Award, 1991
CSU Athletic Department Excellence in Education Award, 2002
Oliver P. Pennock Distinguished Service Award, 2006
CVMBS Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, 2012
Panhellenic Council Faculty Appreciation Award, 2015
Faculty Council Distinguished Service Award, 2017
Love from students
“C.W. Miller makes it his personal mission to help students succeed. As an instructor, personal mentor, and professional advisor, he has made a lasting impact in my life. He truly is one of a kind.” -John-Michael Benson (B.S. ‘15, current student at University of Colorado School of Medicine)
“C.W. Miller was the most engaged and helpful professor that I had in all of my time at CSU. He was so passionate about helping students and making sure that he could improve their lives in both large and small ways. It’s hard for me to capture in words the gratitude that I feel towards him for his mentorship. He played a huge part in helping me get where I am today and he helped me find my place at CSU more than any other professor.” –Meagan Chriswell (B.S. ‘16, current student at University of Colorado School of Medicine)
“C.W. Miller is an extraordinary professor and mentor. Not only is he wonderful at teaching, he is incredibly patient, kind, and understanding. He knew I was interested in reproduction and suggested the biomedical sciences assisted reproduction program. I fell in love with the program and today am living the dream, working in a human fertility clinic helping people grow their families. I owe it to Dr. Miller, although I know he would never take the credit for it.”
–Angela Smith (B.S. ‘16, M.S ’17, reproductive laboratory technician/andrologist training to be an embryologist at Missouri Fertility)
“C.W. Miller is truly an individual who wants the best for every person he meets. And I love how he isn’t afraid to show emotion.” –Avery Olson (B.S. ‘16, current student at University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine)