Dr. Jon Miller Protects New Jersey's Beaches
When he was still in high school, Dr. Jon Miller watched as local news channels featured Dr. Michael Bruno, now Dean of the Schaefer School of Engineering and Science, as he explained the science behind devastating Atlantic storms in 1991 and 1992. The aftermath of these high-profile storms made a lasting impression on the young Dr. Miller and inspired him to pursue a career dedicated to researching the ocean and improving awareness of coastal issues.
The New Jersey native applied to a number of engineering programs throughout the East, finally deciding on Stevens, where he became an integral part of the university's close-knit community. "I knew that, at Stevens, you weren't just another student," he recalls. He studied Civil Engineering and graduated in 1999. That fall, Dr. Miller entered the Coastal Engineering graduate program at the University of Florida, where he earned both his Master's and Ph.D.
Ironically, his decision to remain in academia was motivated by industry experiences. Through Stevens Cooperative Education program, which places students in full-time employment between study semesters, Dr. Miller received wide exposure to the professional world and considered going to work for one of his employers after graduation. "They actually advised me to go straight to grad school," he reports, to take advantage of the financial support he could receive as an experienced engineer.
Once in graduate school, he got hooked. "I got a chance to see the types of problems the professors were working on, the environment they did it in, and the overall freedom they had," he says.
Furthermore, he saw that everyone else was hooked, too. "The more involved in the profession I get, the more I realize that I don't know any retired professors. There is something about working on cutting edge research with brilliant young minds that has kept every professor I know young."
Dr. Miller finds these role models throughout his field. "I was at a conference recently where a very distinguished professor of Coastal Engineering was asked to name his favorite beach, and his response was, 'The next one.' I have really taken away a lot from that statement. Each project I do brings something new and exciting. Each beach we study is unique, and understanding those differences is what allows us to manage them successfully."
Now a Research Assistant Professor of Ocean Engineering at Stevens and a popular instructor, Dr. Jon Miller is already inspiring a new generation of engineers. When Hurricane Earl threatened the New Jersey coast in late August 2010, Dr. Miller was summoned to provide his expert opinion to the media. As a coastal processes specialist for the New Jersey Coastal Protection Technical Assistance Service (NJCPTAS), he is a go-to voice for shoreline conditions. He believes that programs like NJCPTAS are spreading awareness that makes New Jersey's beaches healthier. "More and more people are beginning to understand the dynamic nature of the coast on which they live."
Education and outreach begins at home, and Dr. Miller declares that his favorite part of his job is just working with students. "I love what I do," he says, "and watching students develop that same passion is exciting." As proof of his active involvement with students, Dr. Miller received a 2010 Educator of the Year Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers, based on a student nomination.
"To me, that's what makes it all worth it."