For more than two decades Mary Miller has been sharing her knowledge of graphic design with students in the School of Visual Communications at OSU Institute of Technology.
Before she was a teacher at OSUIT she was a student, but that’s not where she started.
“I went the other way. I earned my bachelor’s in fine art from the University of Oklahoma right out of high school. I didn’t know graphic design was something I could do and make a living,” Miller said. “I came to realize I didn’t have what I needed to make it in the industry so I came to OSUIT. I learned more about graphic design in my first month at OSUIT than I did in four years at OU.”
After graduating and working at a studio in Tulsa, she starting teaching a few night classes at her alma mater before a full time instructor position became available.
“I loved it pretty much from the get-go. Teaching is very addictive, you feel like you’re doing something with your life. You see the results,” she said. “It’s small classes and you get to know the students and you work with them one-on-one. It’s the best part of teaching here.”
Miller is being recognized for her dedication to her students and OSUIT by being named a Regents Distinguished Teaching Award winner. She was nominated by two students then submitted a portfolio of sorts on her teaching methods and results before an in-person interview with the selection committee.
“Talking about how great the program is isn’t difficult for me. I’m passionate about it,” she said, but she still wasn’t expecting to be chosen. “Completely shocked. It’s flattering and humbling and a morale booster for sure.”
But for Miller gratification doesn’t come from awards, but from the relationships she has built with former students and now fellow alumni.
“In my 21 years here I’ve had hundreds, maybe thousands of students. The ones who can stick it out and make it through this rigorous program, they graduate from student to friend,” she said. “It’s such a privilege to get to be a part of such a critical time in their lives.”
Miller also works to stay in tune with what is happening in the world of graphic design by continuing to do freelance work as well as read up on the industry and trends as much as possible.
But ultimately, the bedrock of design doesn’t change much, she said.
“We still teach the foundations of design here. The basic principles of brand communication are really rooted in human psychology,” she said, and teaching soft skills is just as important. “With graphic design, there’s an aspect of customer service in that job. We teach them how to deal with business people and how to respect the client. How to deal with co-workers and highly stressed environments. They have to know how to handle deadlines, communication and stress management and balance that with artistic creativity.”
And Miller thinks no place teaches those skills and life lessons better than OSUIT through instructors with industry experience who have a hands-on approach to learning with classes in session all year-round.
“OSUIT has some of the most competent and hard-working faculty in higher education. The Visual Communications team is really a good team, we have excellent people in place. I consider myself fortunate,” she said. “We deliver for the students what we promise, which is if you can get through the program, you will be employable. This place is unique. I’m just really proud to be associated with this institution.”