39 years of change

Dr. Barbara Miller celebrates retirement
July 28th, 2023

Dr. Barbara Miller (right) embraces Dr. Ernestine Lacy at her retirement party July 27.

After 39 years with Texas A&M School of Dentistry (43, if you count her time as a student) Dr. Barbara Miller celebrated her retirement July 27. Miller has spent nearly four decades with the school, first as a teacher, and later as the assistant dean of recruitment and admissions. Throughout her career, she said one of her main goals was to change the school for the better.

“I started as a student in 1979,” Miller said. “Coming to work for the school wasn’t my idea in the first place; it was my husband’s. He was faculty here, and he kept encouraging me and trying to recruit me.”

Miller said that after graduating, she was reluctant to take a teaching position with the school. Working in her private practice was rewarding, and she hadn’t enjoyed the school’s climate as a student. In those days, she said, the school seemed to have an indifferent attitude toward the student body, and she felt they did not really care about the students’ wellbeing. It wasn’t an environment to which she wanted to return. However, her husband said that she could change things.

“It was a different atmosphere than it is now; it wasn’t really that supportive,” she said. “My husband said to me, ‘If people like you don’t go back, it might never change.’ So he threw down the gauntlet, and I took the challenge to heart.”

Miller spent the next 21 years as a teacher. It was part-time at first, but as time went on, she began to love the job and eventually took it on full-time. Later, at the recommendation of then-dean Dr. James Cole, she took up a new role in admissions.

“Again, it wasn’t my idea, but I’m really glad it happened the way it did,” Miller said. “It didn’t even occur to me at the time to apply for the position, but he [Dr. Cole] asked me if I would like to do this job.”

Over the next 18 years, Miller and her team were responsible for interviewing and recruiting the incoming classes of future dentists. Dean Cole gave her a specific charge to try and increase the diversity of future DDS classes without negatively impacting student metrics, which is something she has kept in mind all through her career.

“That was an interesting challenge, and an important one,” Miller said. “We are educating dentists for the entire community. By training dentists from all different backgrounds, we’re more likely to provide dentists to all different aspects of the community.”

As it turned out, Miller said in a speech during her retirement party, student metrics improved as future classes began to better represent the community. Grade point averages and test results all showed marked upticks, she said.

After 39 years, Miller said she has seen the school transform in many ways. Besides the evolution of the dental field itself and new renovations, she said the school’s climate has vastly improved. When she was a student, she said, there were very few women or minorities in the school. Watching the changes over the years, and being a part of it, has been an amazing part of her career. The school itself is much more welcoming and students have more support systems in place these days, too.

Another major challenge during her time overseeing recruitment was the COVID-19 pandemic. Conducting in-person interviews and tours of the school were impossible for three years, so she had to get creative. Interviews were conducted over Zoom, she said, which was practically the same as speaking face-to-face. Another challenge was working from home, which made it difficult to separate working time from rest time. But she and her team persevered, she said, and made it all work.

The common thread among everyone with thoughts to share about Miller is her compassion. Dean Lily T. García knew Miller when they were both students. She was always the person who would smile and make you feel like you belonged, she said. Coming back to lead her alma mater after all these years, she said, it was obvious the impact Miller had made on the school’s environment.

“That was one of my reasons for coming back here, knowing those connections,” García said. “Knowing all the people here who have made this a very rich culture is why I’m back. Thank you [Miller] for all you’ve done. By coming back, you’ve built a better culture, not just among students, but among faculty. We’re forever grateful.”

Dr. Miller celebrated her retirement after 39 years with Texas A&M School of Dentistry.

As Miller enjoys retirement, she leaves behind a strong legacy. Faculty, staff, students and alumni have all turned out in support of her and to wish her well. Dr. Ernestine Lacy, associate dean in the office of student affairs, said she’s known Miller in almost every type of professional relationship over 30-plus years. She knew Miller as a teacher and mentor when she was a student in 1990, she said, and later, as faculty members together, with Miller as her supervisor and she as Miller’s supervisor. More importantly, Lacy said she has really gotten to know Miller as a friend.

“Mentor, supervisor, supervisee, fellow faculty member and as a friend,” Lacy said. “I’ve gotten to know her very well. She’s very student-oriented, she’s a student advocate and she has a teacher’s heart. That means she’s really passionate about doing what’s best for the students. She has this sincere compassion for the students. She is a champion for things being done in the students’ best interest.”

Janet Pledger, senior administrative coordinator in the office of recruitment and admissions, said that Miller is the best boss she’s ever had. They’ve worked together about 18 years, and she said what stands out most about Miller is her heart.

“It’s a pleasure to work with her,” Pledger said. “She is a kind and caring person. She knows how to work around problems and is easy to work alongside.”

Something else that stood out to her is how students would come by from time to time to thank Miller for recruiting them, and alumni would sometimes send cards, flowers or chocolates.

“I count her as one of my daily blessings,” Pledger said. “It really has been a blessing to be able to work with her. When you get students coming back and thanking the assistant dean of admissions, that’s a big thing. She is such a genuinely nice person, beautiful personality. She’s one of those people you feel blessed to have in your life because they enrich it. That’s Dr. Miller.”

Miller said she decided to retire to take some time to focus on her health and her garden.

“I don’t even have a garden yet,” she said. “I’ve been serving the school, serving the students, serving future students, and I feel really good about what I’ve done. But at this point, it’s time for me to take some time for myself. It’s time to step back and let someone else give it a try.”

The new director of recruitment and admissions is Dr. Gabriel Crosby. Crosby has previously served as director of graduate business programs in the College of Business at Prairie View A&M University and on the MBA recruitment and admissions team at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School.

Miller had some advice for everyone at the school, current and future. Like the airplane attendants tell you on a flight, she said, make sure to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. Take care of yourself, she said, work at a pace you can manage. That will help you keep up the energy to help those around you. She also said to be excited for the future. The school is on a good track, and she is confident that it has a bright future ahead.

“I’m very hopeful and confident for the school, under Dr. García’s leadership,” she said. “I’m also confident that Dr. Crosby will be successful. There’s been some tough years here, but I feel like the school is in a much better place now. I feel confident.”

Students writing congratulations to Dr. Miller at her retirement party.

— Caleb Vierkant

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