A passion for travel

“I always wanted to see the world.”

Dennis Miller, ’72, had a lot of interests while in college, but didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do except travel. Heidelberg helped him realized his goal and find a career about which he was passionate.

“They were formative years for me,” he said. “It was such a personal campus.”

His time at Heidelberg was impacted by the environmental movement that started in the ’60s. Miller called it his early activism stage.

During the summer, Miller worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to collect pollution samples they could use in court to help clean up the Scioto River in central and southern Ohio. At the time, the organization was working on establishing commercial guidelines for waterways and interstate navigation. His ‘Berg professors, Dr. George Barlow and Dr. Howard Hintz, encouraged him to keep pursuing his interests.

“Dr. Hintz told me, ‘No matter what you do, make the most of your undergrad and things will open up,’” Miller said.

He heeded this advice, helping organize the environmental movement on campus by starting the student organization PURE – People United for a Respectable Environment. It was Heidelberg’s first student organization focused on environmental issues. The group was able to celebrate the first Earth Day in the spring of 1970.

“It was a fun experience,” Miller said. “I was happy to be a part of it.”

After graduation, Miller decided to go abroad. Because he wanted to flex his German language muscles, he headed to Switzerland where he got a job at a hotel as a dish washer, but left soon after to backpack around Europe for a few months. Along the way, he met people from all over the world, which only increased his appreciation for other cultures. He slept in caves and cooked over fires, meeting people from South Africa, Canada and Spain.

“There were people from all over the world just like me who wanted to travel,” Miller said.

After coming back to the U.S., Miller enrolled in a master’s program in economic development at the University of Colorado. He followed that up with a Ph.D. in environmental economics at the International Center for Energy and Economic Development and the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. He was combining the two passions he discovered at Heidelberg into a career – economics and the environment.

“I thought I could reconcile environmental problems with the business community,” he said. “That was where decisions were being made.”

During his time in Colorado, he was offered another opportunity for international travel at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. He taught there for two years and was intrigued by the student perception of America as well as identifying his own biases.

This experience abroad coupled with his economic background led Miller to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he became a trade analyst, doing a lot of work focusing on the U.S. – Soviet grain trade, writing several articles published in The Wall Street Journal.

In 1987, Miller joined the faculty at Baldwin Wallace University as an economics professor, where he currently holds the Buckhorn Endowed Chair. The position has given him time to complete research and collaborate on a book titled Rethinking the Resource Curse: Reshaping the Role of Oil and its Impact on Economic Development in the MENA Region Post-Arab Spring.

Being a professor opened the door to new opportunities for international experiences.

“I know that I’m lucky to have been able to keep traveling,” he said. “Not everyone has the opportunity to do this.”

Miller has taught in Nicaragua and Ukraine and taken students on trips to Tunisia, India and Montenegro. Even after 30 years, he is still passionate about traveling.

“It’s meeting new people,” he said. “There are so many interesting people in the world. Why limit ourselves to where we live?”

He credits his travels for helping him keep an open and curious mind, and he tries to pass on his experiences to his students.

“Know that you don’t have all the answers,” he said. “Listen to people you disagree with and be open to challenges.”

During his time at Baldwin Wallace, Miller received two Fulbright Scholarships to the Ukraine. On his second visit he met his wife, whom he married in 2006. He has found other ways to stay involved. Miller is a member of the International Visitors Committee for the Cleveland Council for World Affairs. The organization’s aim is to inspire engagement in international affairs. Miller has hosted visitors from Sri Lanka and the Ukraine, sharing stories and helping them feel welcome.

Thinking internationally is something that comes naturally to Miller.

“Borders don’t mean much anymore,” he said. “We are a human community. Caring about family and friends is a universal feeling. We should focus on that and not our cultural differences.”

Miller’s passion for seeing the world led him into a career trying to improve it.

“I tell my students, ‘Pursue the things that interest you, which are vital to you, and you’ll be surprised where you end up.’”

Published in Spring 18

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