A well-known figure around campus is the Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Timothy Miller. A double alumnus of the school, with a doctorate at George Washington University, Dr. Miller is well known around campus for attending student and school events, and supporting the student body, documenting and promoting these events on his Instagram.
I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Miller in his office on the Quad, and before I could ask my questions to him, he had his own about me. It was clear that he wanted to get to know me just as much as I wanted to get to know him. This energy and charisma that he brought to our discussion about things such as D&D carried over to our interview, where I was captivated by every word.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
So I was originally born in Atlanta, Georgia, moved to Northern Virginia when I was two, and grew up there. Mostly focused on activities, soccer and music. I was and still am a musician but did band and marching band all that stuff all through high school. The family business was education, so my mom and brother were both teachers. My dad was an accountant, he’s sort of the outlier there. Came [to JMU] in 1992, was a freshman Tuba major. Little known fact, it’s actually a major you can have, and I had it. I did not stick with it. I was a guitar major second semester, then I had lots of other majors and eventually graduated with political science and criminal justice. When I was here, I was an RA. I worked for catering. I worked for summer conferencing. I was in a fraternity, and I was in a Criminal Justice Association.
Graduated in ‘96, I didn’t have a job to know what I was gonna do with my life. Went home, and a job opened up [back at JMU], I applied, and got it. So then I was in charge of Grafton-Stovall theater, my first full time job. My first office was the projection booth. I eventually moved out of that because I felt a little too Quasimodo sort of out there in the rafters. Then I stayed here for four years total, had several different jobs, got promoted several times. I did an Alternative Break trip, loved it, and realized that service and service learning and all that was what I wanted to do, got my masters in college student personnel, and graduated in 2000. I met Jamie, my wife, towards the end of my time here, and we got married in 2000. Moved to South Carolina to work at University of South Carolina, left there after a year after mostly good experience with a bad ending there. Jamie got a job in Fairfax. So moved up there and lived with her parents for a little bit. And then I did every job you could imagine. I worked at Staples, Borders Books, at a movie theater, I worked construction, I was a substitute teacher, everything just to pay the bills, until I found the job I wanted at George Washington University. I then worked there for 16 and a half years, doing lots of different jobs, had about eight jobs. Got my doctorate there, and then left in 2018 and came here. And I’ve been here ever since.
What drew you back to JMU?
Well, this is my dream job. To be able to come back here and do this job was a dream. This is also probably my favorite place on Earth. I mean, most people would never think that could happen. Jamie also went here, so it’s both of our favorite places. I mean, our dog’s name is Duke Dog, we’re pretty deep into it. For us, it was the place to be. Jamie actually doesn’t live here, she lives up in Northern Virginia, in Falls Church. She got her dream job at the Pentagon when I got my dream job here. We felt strongly that she shouldn’t sacrifice her dream and I shouldn’t sacrifice my dream, we can both live with our dreams and just live two hours apart. We travel on weekends to see each other and talk every night. But honoring both of our dreams was important to us. So that’s how we’ve made it work for five and a half years, and she would come here every weekend for football anyway, whether I was here or not. And then in the summer I go there every weekend to see her.
Did you know when you’re a student that you wanted to come back and work here or when you’re pursuing your undergrad, or know that you wanted to do your masters?
No idea. I didn’t even know this was a field when I was a student. I graduated with no idea what to do with my life. Talked to a few people and then they’re like, “hey, this guy just left, you should think about it.” I was like, alright, I’ll do it. I’ll take a job. Oh, I would honestly tell you that most of my career was a bunch of fumbling or mistakes. Someone left in the theater, I got their job. And then two years later, I did an Alternative Break trip. I was like, oh, my gosh, this is the transformative stuff I want to do. Then along the way, there are moments that tested me like, “Is this really what you want to do?” I mean, I lost my job at South Carolina. And that was like, oh, maybe I’m not supposed to do this. Maybe this is not what I’m supposed to do in the world, and then when I got the job at GW and started being successful and really loving it, I’m like, no, this is what I’m supposed to do. But I would say the first time in my life that I felt like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing was when I got this job. And I was 43 when I got this job. So it wasn’t till 43 that I had really strong affirmation and convinced myself, yes, this is what you’re supposed to be doing. This job is what I’m supposed to do on this planet.
Especially because the big image is like, “Oh, you graduate college and you know what you’re supposed to do”, that’s a big narrative push. So it’s nice to hear that that can be the reality for some people, but it doesn’t have to be.
I don’t think it’s the reality for most people. One of my favorite images out there in the world is two pictures. One is what people think success looks like and it’s a straight line. And then what success really looks like and it’s a big jumble. The line starts here, the arrow on the other end, but it’s just a big jumble. Mine is a total jumble. Graduated with no job, don’t know where I’m going, get the job, come back, then start a job, get a couple more jobs. Then think, oh, I’ll get a master’s. Why not? Didn’t expect that, and then eventually graduated and ended up at a job that I think I’m gonna love, but I don’t, and I lose the job at the end of the year. That’s totally not something I expected. But all those things were good for me in the long run, even the ones that were really hard and painful.
What is one of your favorite things or top three about campus life?
Top one would be hard, top three I can probably do. I mean, I just think it’s awesome to be here. I go out of my way, usually whenever I’m walking somewhere just to experience more of campus. So for example, every day when I come to work, I drive through campus. It’s slower, but I can see more. It’s fun to see students walk into class, engaging. I experienced the campus on a pretty regular basis, even if it takes me another 5, 10, 15 minutes. Just like the quad. I mean, I work on the quad. It’s so cool. I never thought that would ever happen. I think another favorite thing, I mean, this kind of a conversation. I’ll probably have five one-on ones with students today. That’s just a great thing to like, learn about you and find out where you’re from and find out that you have family that were here before, like the legacy of this place and the impact that it has, it’s just a really great thing to be a part of. And to think that I have a small part to play in the legacy of this place for people, that’s one of my other favorite things. And the last thing I can think of is it’s been really fun to now have friends who bring their kids here, like I have friends that have students at JMU now. That’s so cool. I think Jamie and I figured out that we have about 30 people that have kids here, over our network of friends and everybody. And that’s just a lot of fun. I have someone walk up to me that I haven’t seen in 20 years walk up and be like, “Tim, we went to high school together.” I mean, one of my good friends from growing up, we played soccer together, and our birthdays are close together in December, his daughter is a senior here. So I think it’s that part, that this is not just a job. This is not just a school. This is a place that’s connected for me personally, and the fact that I get to do it is a pretty amazing experience.
What’s your favorite part about football games here, or the football culture in general?
I mean, my favorite days are when I get to walk around to all the tailgating areas. I usually start three hours before the game, and I drop off 100 pizzas in the student lot. What I find is students tend to bring not food. So I sort of, for them and for my own preservations of my own life, I bring 100 pizzas every game, and I give them away to the students. So I’ll probably start there, then I’ll go up to the Convo lot, and then walk down to the UREC lot. And then I’ll walk to P-Lot, and then I’ll walk the Godwin lot. It’s just fun to walk around and talk to people, and I’ll see hundreds of friends as I do that. The funny thing is, sports are fine, but I’m more about the people part. I love watching our students enjoy it. I love watching our players, our student athletes compete and be successful. I’m less about the sport than I am about the people part. My dream would be spending four hours walking through all the tailgates and just saying hi and connecting with people and ask them how they’re doing. And that would just be sort of a dream for hours for me. And then it’s a good football game, especially when we win, but the pre-stuff is probably more exciting and interesting to me.
What are your top three favorite JMU traditions?
Well, I think our food traditions are fun for me, you know, the Chicken Nugget Thursday and Buff Mash Friday. Peanut Butter Pie Wednesday, although the E-Hall Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, Thursday, is really good too, I’m not betraying D-Hall, but it is really good. I think those it’s fun that we have that. I mean, the fact that people are excited about food and want the T-shirts from food is just kind of an interesting and fun thing. That’s just very JMU, aside from the generic holding doors thing, more the fact that I think we’re there for each other. Whether it’s a door, helping people with jobs after college, an alum reaching out and saying, “Hey, I want to tell you about an opportunity.” I just think that the giving nature of this place is embodied in the holding of doors, but it’s about how we help each other and how we look out for each other. And I do think, that while sometimes the alcohol part plays too much of a role, I do like the energy around football. I like how we do it. I like the streamers, I like the MRDs and the energy they bring, the Dukettes, the cheerleaders, all that stuff together. And, I mean, Duke Dog when he really brings his A game to the experience. So I think it’s just the whole game day experience. There’s just a lot of fun for me, and I enjoy being a part of it and being able to have fun with that. I’m also excited about the energy that I’m starting to see in the Convo with volleyball, and then at UBC for women’s and men’s basketball. I’m hoping it’ll catch more. I think everyone sort of just feels like football is the thing. But so many of our other sports are so competitive and so strong across the country. I just, I like that we come together around those things.
Any suggestions for things for JMU students to do around campus?
So I love Stanton. I think everyone should go to Stanton itself. Just a great town. They also have a really cool Harry Potter weekend. They also have a Shakespeare Theater. That was really awesome. So I think Stanton is a place everyone should get. I also just think all the little towns like Dayton is a cute little old town, Newmarket, Elkton. There are all these different places. So my first thought is get away. Like the other weekend, Jamie and I did the Mennonite relief sale that was at the county fair, then we went to Dayton Days and the White Oak lavender farm, then we went and picked pumpkins, and then went downtown for the skeleton festival. There’s a lot to do. And I really just want to encourage people to get out of their campus stuff. I think people should all take the Ice Cream Challenge, is what I’m calling it, and try all the different places. Decide if you’re Smiley’s or Grammy’s, or Klein’s or Brewster’s. You should eventually try all of them and decide which one’s your favorite. Some people get stuck on “I know this one, I like this one” and, as a Klein’s person, I think they’re wrong if pick something else. But go to all the different places and try them. Because then you also see lots of stuff while you’re getting to Smiley’s or to Grammys, or, you know, depending on how many of the different Klein’s places you go to. And then one of the things I’ve not done that I really want to do is go to a Friday night high school football game. I think that’d be fun to pick one of the local high schools and go to a Friday night game. And I think people ought to do that too. I have great memories of having been in the marching band and one year not being in the marching band. So getting to just sit in the stands. And I just think high school football games are fun experiences to see. Here, there’s a ton of pressure. There’s pressure in high school, but nowhere like here, or in the NFL. It’s just a bunch of kids that are probably never going to play football again after high school just enjoying themselves in the family atmosphere. So that’s the thing I have not done. The last one I’ll say is golf. I’m a huge fan of golf. I love to play golf. Go and play one of the local courses. Sandy Round, I think it’s called, is a little free par three just down the street. On Bridgewater, even if you don’t play well, go there. It’s free. Why not? But I think those are fun activities to do and go out and just, you know, even if you don’t know what to you know, go to Morgan’s the driving range and just hit some golf balls. Yeah, I think that’s a fun activity.
You mentioned Klein’s, do you have a particular favorite flavor?
I think this week is Mint Oreo. Oh. I also like the Peanut Butter Oreo. Chocolate Peanut Butter is pretty good. Those are probably my favorites. I’m an Oreo fan. They have a peppermint that only comes out twice a year, which is very good, always around Christmas.
Any advice for incoming freshmen, transfers, or anyone who’s new here?
So, let’s say a couple of things. One, this is hard. You’re transitioning to a whole new place, you’ve never done this before. So know that it’ll have some challenges, like, you might find Dancing Dukes right away and say, “Oh, my gosh, this is my place, this is my people” or you might go there and “That’s not a good fit for me”. You’ve got to try lots of thing before you settle in; a lot of people don’t get one thing and then stop. You’ve got to plant lots of seeds, then you got to be perseverant, you got to be willing to push through. Some things aren’t gonna go well, you’re not going to do well on a test and you may never have done badly on a test before. And will not be the last time. So you got to push through that. I also think that building good habits is a really important thing. Getting up at the same time every day, not being on your phone more than about three hours a day. Going to every class; if you like to work out, making sure you have a workout schedule, figure out your meeting schedule. But building good habits, I find tends to help people. I always tell people to also use a calendar. People are like “Oh, no, I use my phone.” No, you’re not using the calendar function. But building good habits, having a schedule and then pushing through struggle, I think is what leads to success in the long run.
Anything else that you want to talk about, that you think that is important to talk about or to your story?
I mean, the only other thing I would say is there is absolutely a community for everyone on this campus. And if there’s not one, create it. So, years ago, when I got here, there wasn’t a lot for students that wanted to play music. So we just started doing open mics on the commons. And I would go out with my guitar, a microphone, and a couple other students with instruments and we would just play. Students would come up and they would say I play guitar and I’d hand them my guitar and they would play. We did that for a couple years. And now students are running that, JMU Underground. And bands have formed out of those moments, like someone comes up and sings, and you’re like, “We need a singer.” Great. You just find your singer. You don’t have a guitar, someone plays guitar. Great. They’re now your guitarist. And that just happened. There was an acapella group that formed out of students that didn’t get picked by some of the acapella groups. So they were like, “Fine, we’re gonna be our own group.” There’s always a group. And if there’s not, you can create a group. So your community is here. If you can’t find it, then create your own community. And I just think that’s a great thing we do here is let people have that flexibility to find their own community and create it. It’s great to know because there’s something for everyone.