Miller: Just Getting the Degree Is Not Enough

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

Dr. Melanie Miller, director, Office of Student and Community Engagement

In about a year from now, Dr. Melanie Miller will have worked for The University of Alabama for 20 years, but she still maintains a youthful outlook about her work, possibly because so much of that time has been spent working with young people both inside and outside of class. Although she has held several positions "” director of the Women's Resource Center, associate director of the Russell Student Health Center, executive director of Crimson Care, and most recently associate dean of students "” they all have one thing in common: helping students make the most of their UA experience.

"I always tell students that there is a difference in getting a degree and getting an education," said Miller, who earned three degrees from UA "” bachelor of science in social work, master of arts in community counseling, and doctorate in higher education administration. "If students only leave here with a degree, we have failed them."

So it's no surprise that Miller and her position as director of Student and Community Engagement in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships within the Division of Community Affairs are a good fit.

In the new position, Miller works to involve undergraduate and graduate students in community activities and volunteer experiences that will complement their classroom studies and strengthen their knowledge of and experience in research. She believes helping students get involved in the community gives them a better understanding of how their education is directly linked to solving problems within the community.

"I want to help students grow and develop during their time here. The whole campus should be a learning environment for students," said Miller, the mother of two college students. "Education should be about transforming the total student. They need to be able to make meaning of how they can apply whatever information or skills they are getting in the classroom to their daily lives."

The engagement activities Miller facilitates, however, are more than social development. Under Miller students will also learn how to do research that fosters intellectual growth and helps undergraduate and graduate students alike get additional research and analytical skills.

"I think it's important to get students to understand that they can be involved in activities outside of the classroom, especially research," Miller said. "Many are already involved in service-learning activities."

One of Miller's primary responsibilities will be overseeing SCOPE, Scholars for Community, Outreach, Partnership and Engagement, a program begun in 2009. One of her objectives is to increase the number of student members and get more undergraduate students involved.

"There are certainly ways to plug more undergraduate students into projects as research assistants, even if they are not initiating research projects independently," Miller said. "I look forward to collecting more information by collaborating with different departments on campus and finding a way to connect more students to existing research initiatives."

Although she has worked at UA since 1995, she has also served as a field placement supervisor and has taught such courses as Cooperation and Conflict; Leadership Through Social Justice Activism; and Leadership Through Volunteerism. All of these courses had a service-learning component.

This background, along with her work on social justice issues and her many years of experience working in community non-profits, will clearly benefit Miller in her new role.

"One of our goals at CCBP is to collect information on community needs," Miller said. By systematically collecting information and developing sources regarding community needs CCBP and the campus will be able to match up community needs and faculty and student resources to prioritize the areas of greatest need, she says.

The Tuscaloosa native believes her new role allows her to use her expertise to put students on the frontlines of improving the quality of life for citizens living in Tuscaloosa and the surrounding communities, connecting them in ways that will transform their own lives.

Miller said, "It helps students develop skill sets while exposing them to different settings. It helps them become better citizens when they graduate, enhancing their sense of giving back to the community."

About Miller's appointment, Dr. Samory T. Pruitt said, "The addition of Dr. Miller comes at just the right time as more and more students seek to enrich their lives and improve the quality and value of their coursework by becoming engaged with the larger community. We are very fortunate to have a person with her training and interests for this important work."

For more information on SCOPE or any of the other engagement projects Miller is involved in, call her at 205-348-6929 or email her at