Written by Gabe Burns, Editor-in-Chief
A 15-year journey brought Dr. Vince Miller from the bayou to the Blazers.
The Watson, Louisiana native is one of the new masterminds of VSU’s administrative retool as the Vice President of Student Affairs. As with new Interim President Dr. Kelli Brown, Dr. Miller said he emphasizes student success.
“President Brown and I started on the same day, and I think we have similar philosophies on student success and asking ourselves how we can benefit students,” Dr. Miller said.
Dr. Miller frequently used “potential” to describe VSU. He said the university’s recent struggles (admissions, retainment) trace back to a lack of permanent leadership. He said rather than VSU doing anything wrong, the university has “lost momentum” due to the instability.
“There are people here who care,” he said. “The infrastructure is in place. The student experience is great. We’ve got to get more students on campus. We need to get more students enrolled. We need to know how our work retains students. We need to connect those dots.”
He said enrollment management, academic support services and student affairs should work in unity, but that’s difficult without solid leadership. He said he wants to be a connector.
There’s a need for more types of services, specifically in diversity and student inclusion as well as leadership and volunteer services, according to Dr. Miller, but all facets of the university must be cohesive to achieve that. He said expanding and uniting are his priorities, and he wants to see students search for and take opportunities.
“I want to see you walk in day one, then see you walk across that stage at the end,” he said.
Of course, Dr. Miller was a student himself at one point.
He stayed in-state for college, attending Louisiana Tech University. He said he, as many students do, shuffled through an assortment of majors in search of a career, from physical therapy to health and physical education.
“I thought I was going to be a ball coach,” he said, laughing. “… I liked athletics and always wanted to be around athletics … it took a while for me to find where I needed to be.”
He discovered his “fit” in Management and Marketing. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, Dr. Miller went back to school while working full-time to earn a Master of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology in 2004. He worked at Louisiana Tech as an admissions officer and Director of Orientation and Special Programs for five years. But while in college, his parents moved to Jacksonville, Florida, which he said prompted him to eventually navigate eastward.
In 2006, Dr. Miller landed at Georgia Southern as the Assistant Director of Admissions, Orientation and Parent Programs (2006-2008). During a 10-year span in Statesboro, he also served as the Director of Special Projects (2008-2011), Acting Director of Career Services (2012) and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs (2011-2016).
Georgia Southern was going through a transition period, which opened the door for Dr. Miller to look elsewhere. He said he felt it was the right time in his career to make a move.
“I hadn’t been to a job interview in 10 years,” he said. “I thought maybe it was time to put my resume out there and see what happens … I advise students and professionals to look for the appropriate next step … I needed to challenge myself to grow, but I didn’t need to challenge myself in a way I couldn’t be successful.
I wanted to look for an institution the size of VSU that would provide expanded responsibility, new opportunities and was that appropriate next step.”
VSU was one of four interviews in two weeks, with all the universities being significantly different, according to Dr. Miller. He said he “can’t be more pleased with the outcome” and his familiarity with the state will be an important factor to any success.
The familiarity doesn’t stop with the state. He drew parallels between his early days at Southern and VSU today.
“The conversations we’re having at Valdosta State today are the same conversations I was part of in 2006,” he said. “…What are the mechanisms we need to put in place to better support students, to improve customer service, to better retain students? We need to know what causes enrollment shifts … What does Valdosta State want to be?”
Dr. Miller praised Georgia Southern’s administration and said VSU has the right people in place for the university to excel.
“There’s no reason for students to sit and say ‘wow, Georgia Southern is doing this’ or ‘Kennesaw is doing this, West Georgia is doing that,’” he said. “There’s no reason Valdosta State can’t be there in five years or less.”
He added he likes VSU’s current student population range (11,000-13,000), but said he could see that number ascending in the future.
School is three weeks in, and Dr. Miller is a couple months in on the job. He doesn’t have much free time, but thoroughly enjoys fishing and golfing. He said once everything settles down, he’s going to check out the Valdosta golf scene. So far, he’s adjusting well to the Azalea City.
“I like everything I see,” Dr. Miller said. “This is a friendly, southern community. It’s very welcoming, very open-armed.”