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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

A&M-CENTRAL TEXAS ALUM FINDS FULFILLMENT IN NEW CAREER AND COMMUNITY SERVICE

A&M-CENTRAL TEXAS ALUM FINDS FULFILLMENT  IN NEW CAREER AND COMMUNITY SERVICE

Special to HHES

Elizabeth Brown-Miller, 37, grew up the eldest child of five in a military family. Her father, Ronald Smith, was first a helicopter pilot and then a physician’s assistant, U.S. Army, serving 23 years before retirement. She smiles as she speaks of him, her pride reflecting in the brown sparkle of her eyes.

“Every war that was fought, he was there,” she said. “I think I got my tenacity from him.”

Elizabeth has learned a thing or two about tenacity – from her parents, from her own military service in the U.S. Navy, from her four children, and from her husband, Brady Miller, 42, U.S. Army.

She moved to the Central Texas area in 2004, to be closer to family. She went from being single to being married with three sons, Aries, 18, Taj, 13, and Alex, 11, and did what so many children of military families do: She wrestled with the educational interruption, fighting the constant self-criticism that tugged at her spirit.

“I felt like a failure,” she said, soberly evaluating her words. “It had taken me forever to graduate from the community college because we were having our children and raising a family. I earned an associates in 2001 and didn’t get my bachelors until 10 years later.”

It was a combination of things, she says, that led her to her major in psychology. While at Three Rivers Community College in Connecticut, a psychology teacher there had suggested she had a gift for it. And, when the A&M-Central Texas advisor saw her transcripts, he showed her how well the community college degree aligned with the University’s psychology program.

“A&M-Central Texas was brand new back then, and I knew nothing about it, but it was exactly what I needed,” she said. “Just like that, I was enrolled. I had my major, and I had a degree plan.”

Working through her undergraduate coursework, she enrolled in a History of Psychology course, where she met Dr. Jeff Kirk.

“He scared the daylights out of me,” she said, laughing at her first perception. “By the second class, I thought to myself, ‘I love this guy!’”

Beyond the fundamentals of the required courses, Elizabeth was doing more than ticking off the boxes of a general education curriculum. She was, by her own description, smack dab in the center of a major she had craved.

And Dr. Kirk, without any fanfare or extraordinary measures, was exercising her quick intellect, her love for statistics, and encouraging her well beyond her original goals.

By 2011, she had graduated A&M-Central Texas with her bachelor’s degree, promptly enrolling in graduate school, studying experimental psychology. Again, Dr. Kirk, stepped in with a proposition.

“He was developing a research component within the University, and he wanted me to be a part of it. The first thing I thought was, ‘Who, me?’”

If she doubted herself, Kirk says, it was unfounded. From the first time they met, he knew that there was real brainpower within her.

“So many of our students are bright, truly capable, adults,” he said. “They come to us with such varied experiences and backgrounds, it’s a real strength.”

“What we do differently than most is we ask them to prove it while they’re still here. We look for ways to engage them that show them what they can do. Most of the time, they are more surprised than we are. We know how capable they are.”

Within a year, Elizabeth had made significant contributions to several research projects sponsored by UCARE – University Center for Research and Engagement – varying from special education to transportation.

“Our University is completely committed to community service,” she explained. “We wanted to apply what we knew about the practical aspects of research to solve real problems.”

Describing how their team worked with Hill Country Transit District, Elizabeth remembers driving by a location once unserved by the local HOP. Only now, years later, she spied a bus bench that hadn’t been there before, and immediately remembered doing field research – and making recommendations – that initiated that very location for the neighborhood.

“For me, a simple thing like that bus bench filled me with such pride,” she gushed. “I knew that the work we did made a difference for someone. Hopefully, a lot of someones. And that bench being there represented how applicable and relevant research can be. I am really, really proud to have been a part of that.”

Finishing her first graduate degree in Experimental Psychology within a year, Elizabeth went on to earn another: this time an MBA.

“It took me too long to get my bachelor’s degree,” she explained. “I was hell-bent not to stop until I had done everything I set out to do.”

There were times, she admits, when it felt like she would never get there. Wife, mother, student, and researcher, she completed her MBA in just under two years, becoming the interim director of UCARE while pregnant with her fourth child, Lincoln, now 2.

Deferring her official graduation to coincide with her husband’s graduation, Elizabeth celebrated their dual graduation, crossing the stage in 2014 with her husband who had completed his MBA.

Today, she is employed in Harker Heights at a behavioral health clinic as a registered behavior technician. Unsurprisingly, she is enrolled in post-graduate courses required for board certification as a board certified behavior analyst. Her youngest client is one year old.

To her infinite surprise, she is also an adjunct faculty in the psychology department at A&M-Central Texas where she was once a student. And she is learning the joys of engaging and encouraging the students in her class.

And she adds a post script to her original thoughts on tenacity, gracefully acknowledging the support of the faculty whose encouragement literally altered the trajectory of her life and the lives of those she serves as a behavioral therapist.

“I earned my degrees, and I am proud of that,” she said. “But it’s so much more than a degree that I got from the experience. I’ve known amazing support from Dr. Steve Vitucci and Dr. Jeffrey Kirk. They saw my goals and they showed me what I was capable of doing. They were more than teachers; they are mentors. They are an inspiration. I am where I am today because they took the time to help me grow in ways I never imagined.”

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