Bill and Debbie Miller have spent their lives connected to Kansas State University and the A.Q. Miller School. Today, they’re helping students follow that same purple path.
Debbie graduated in 1975 with a degree in journalism and Bill graduated in 1974 majoring in journalism and wildlife biology. Ironically, it was a technicality that guided Bill to become a journalism major.
“I learned about an Outdoor Writer Scholarship, but only students who were majoring in wildlife biology and journalism could receive it, so I had to enroll in a journalism class,” Bill said. “Had it not been for that scholarship, I would not have majored in journalism and, more importantly, would not have met Debbie.”
Now married with two children, Bill and Debbie started dating while working for Student Publications, Inc. in Kedzie Hall, a place Debbie referred to as her home during college. Both reporters for the Collegian, Debbie began their relationship by inviting Bill along on an assignment.
“I was assigned to cover a concert for the Collegian and invited Bill to go along with my extra free ticket,” Debbie said. “A cheap first date.”
They credit K-State for giving them the tools necessary to succeed in their careers. Bill is the vice-president of communications at a beef marketing company, U.S. Premium Beef, and Debbie, a writer for Midwest Living, a publication she helped start.
Bill and Debbie stay connected to K-State by serving on the JMC Advisory Council. It was their time spent working as student journalists at the university that jump-started their careers.
“Bill and I have always credited K-State for our opportunities and careers in journalism, and felt it was time to give back so others can have similar experiences,” Debbie said. “We’re both involved in mentoring and Big Brothers/Big Sisters programs and that has opened our eyes to the reality that many youths don’t have the support, whether socially or financially, to attend college.”
Their generosity began five years ago when they set up scholarships for several colleges at K-State, in the form of a life insurance gift. A few years after that was in place, they decided it was time to directly help current JMC students, hence the beginning of the Debra D. Leckron-Miller and William J. Miller Scholarship.
“Two years ago, we did an endowed scholarship for journalism which helps a student, each year, defray some of their college costs,” Bill said.
Bill and Debbie have asked for the journalism faculty’s help in selecting the recipients of their scholarship based on academics and involvement. They both believe in the benefits of higher education and know many students cannot afford to go to college.
“We’re hoping our contribution will let students experience the same passion, encouragement and success that K-State gave us and our two daughters,” Debbie said. “We’re so happy to be able to give back to an institution that our whole family takes pride in and a place that we credit for where we are today.”
One of their daughters, Christina Miller, was the guest speaker of the annual Honors Banquet on April 25. The banquet brought together students with their donors and allowed students to meet the people who have lightened their financial burden.
Christina graduated from K-State in 2012 with a degree in advertising and a minor in leadership studies and now works for VML, a full service digital marketing and advertising agency, at their headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. She also serves on the JMC Advisory Council with her parents.
“I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarshipthrough the journalism school all four years while at K-State,” Christina said. “Now as an alumna, I am doing what I can to give back to the school through serving on the Advisory Council and staying connected to professors and current students. As a recent graduate, I am passionate about helping current students prepare for what’s to come after graduation and provide advice for landing an internship or their first job.”
Both Bill and Debbie have memories of attending the Honors Banquet as students. For them, having Christina as a speaker at the banquet brought things full circle.
“I have such fond memories of attending the awards banquet, alongside my parents, when I was a journalism student at K-State. We had that same honor when Christina was a journalism student, and we watched her accept her scholarship,” Debbie said. “Now, today, we are attending that same banquet, where Christina will be the featured speaker, just two years after she was one of the students sitting in the crowd.”
Bill said part of what made Christina an instrumental speaker at the banquet was her relatability.
“I’m thrilled they chose a recent graduate to speak at this year’s banquet because I believe students will relate to someone more nearly their age who has just gone through what they are doing. I’m really proud of what Christina has accomplished in her short time since graduating,” Bill said.
Being fresh out of college, Christina has career experience to share but still remembers what being a student was like, including the importance of obtaining financial assistance.
“It’s what makes education possible for many people,” Christina said. “It can help take the burden off of students. Being a scholarship donor lets people like my parents continue to stay connected to the school. They love it. They’ve become close to the students they’ve given scholarships to.”
Bill and Debbie have met the recipients of their scholarship at previous honors banquets. They try to keep in touch, even sending a care package during finals week to continue showing their support.
Cameron McLaughlin, freshman in journalism and mass communications, was awarded Bill and Debbie’s scholarship in 2013. McLaughlin said the Millers are instrumental in her success at K-State.
“Bill and Debbie have always gone out of their way to check in on me,” McLaughlin said. “I think it’s really important to have donors like them to make the JMC school feel like a family. Bill and Debbie not only helped me settle into my first year here but also helped make it possible for me to come to K-State in general. I’m so thankful.”
Bill and Debbie enjoy watching their recipients mature and they like to see how students succeed after graduation.
“Meeting and helping young people who are passionate about a career in journalism is our reward,” Bill said. “It’ll be even more fun to see what they do after they graduate and start careers of their own.”