Class of 2022: David Miller finds a new way to serve

Posted on December 08, 2022

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David Miller is a senior psychology major preparing to graduate in December 2022.

When David Miller stepped foot on UNCG’s campus as a freshman after being medically discharged from the Marine Corps, he had a plan.

 “I thought I was just here to get my degree and get out,” he says. “I didn’t view myself as anything special.”

Now as a senior psychology major preparing to graduate in December, Miller says he has gained so much more than a degree at UNCG. 

He says he has discovered a drive to help veterans through mental health research, tapped into the “psychology nerd” part of himself, and excelled in research laboratories through the prestigious NIH-funded MARC-U-STAR program. 

In Miller’s honors thesis as part of Lloyd International Honors College, he explores how military training translates to everyday life – all with the big-picture goal of helping veterans.

“We lose a lot of our service members to suicide every day, and one of those things that drives me is trying to bring that number down. I want to be a light on people’s darkest days,” he says. “UNCG stood out for its psychology program – and as a place where I could feel accepted and welcome.”

Miller says UNCG’s support has been an integral part of his personal and professional growth. During his early coursework, he says that multiple professors approached him directly to give him validation about his strong potential as a student and a researcher. 

“The warmth and encouragement from instructors were hugely influential because it started to shift my mindset in the way that I thought about myself as a student,” he says.

He excelled in his core psychology courses, so much so that he was invited to participate in undergraduate research. Miller began working with Dr. Blair Wisco, whose lab’s focus on post-traumatic stress disorder captured his interest. 

It didn’t take long for Miller to catch the research bug.

“Helping countless veterans through research and contributing something new to an entire body of thought – I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity,” he says. “I had found my career and my people.”

Miller applied to and received the MARC U-STAR, a prestigious NIH-funded program at UNCG that supports undergraduates from diverse groups as they explore research.

This program provided him with a monthly stipend, so he would not have to split focus between research and work, travel funds for conferences, and research funding and mentorship. 

“Everything has been very linear steps, and without any one of these opportunities, I don’t know that the other ones fall into place,” he says.

For the past two years Psychology Professor and Director of Clinical Training Kari Eddington has been Miller’s mentor through the program.

“She’s really kept me on track and has always been there to listen to my concerns and then say, ‘Okay, how can I help?’” Miller says. “She’s incredibly knowledgeable.”

Miller has used this time in her laboratory to delve into his main area of interest: exploring how adaptive behaviors in military training can become maladaptive depending on the context and intensity.

“What’s novel about his work is the focus on the military training environment and how that impacts psychological processes,” says Dr. Eddington. “Often the focus is more on acute combat experiences and trauma.”

Miller says that both Eddington and Wisco’s laboratory environments have been conducive to cultivating his confidence as a researcher and supplying him with a well-rounded skill set.

“The smaller, more personal and teaching-oriented laboratory setting was a game changer,” he says.

These nurturing and rigorous research experiences at UNCG prepared Miller for his next research opportunity as part of the MARC-U-STAR program: a summer research internship in Duke’s Traumatic Stress and Health Research Lab in Summer 2022.

“They’re incredible people to work with and beyond that, I actually got extended a job offer to stay,” he says.

During Fall 2022, Miller has been working part-time for this laboratory at Duke. After he graduates in December, he plans to continue in a full-time project manager role in this lab while applying to graduate programs in clinical psychology to begin in Fall 2023. 

“No matter where I go, no matter what program I land in, I can do good science because of what I learned here at UNCG,” he says.

As Miller prepares to graduate in a few short weeks, he says he feels like he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be on his career journey, even if it’s a spot he didn’t expect to find himself. What would he tell his younger self on that first day of freshman classes?

“The great thing about being human is that we can kind of choose the shape and the direction we want to go,” Miller says. “I would encourage myself to lean into this passion for knowledge and learning that made me not always fit so great in other places. These unique characteristics would propel me in a position I never thought I’d be in.”

Story written by Rachel Damiani
Photography by Van Walker & Hunter Pham
Video by Van Walker

A woman in her cap and gown claps at graduation.

#UNCGRAD, CELEBRATE WITH US!

Graduates are invited to share their accomplishments on social media by using related “digital swag,” tagging posts #UNCGGrad, and using Commencement-themed Snapchat filters at the Greensboro Coliseum. The University will display #UNCGGrad-tagged Instagram and Twitter posts live before the ceremony. Graduates are also encouraged to use the Commencement 2022 persona in the UNCG Mobile App.

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