Development director comes full circle at UA Little Rock
October 8-14, 2018
By Becca Bona
As a first-generation high school graduate, Sarah Miller remains proud of her roots.
She knew when she was in high school in Bald Knob, Ark., however, that college wasn’t necessarily in her future.
“[My parents] worked really hard in a factory for 50 years,” she explains, “they made a good living, but they couldn’t afford college for me.”
Miller didn’t qualify for financial aid so she knew if she wanted to go to college, she’d have to find a way to pay for it.
“I moved to Little Rock between my junior and senior years of high school and I lived alone in southwest Little Rock and just did the thing,” she recalls.
She wanted to study journalism, and followed that track at North Little Rock High School before heading to Pulaski Technical College to get her general education requirements. Afterwards she enrolled at UA Little Rock.
“I’m one of those nontraditional students,” she says. “I took the long way through college.”
And it wasn’t easy.
Miller remembers a time when she had to chose between paying for electricity and paying tuition, but she made it work. “I would take a cooler with me to work and fill it with ice so that I could keep my stuff cold so I could afford to go to school,” she says.
While at UA Little Rock, Miller was able to work at Chainwheel bike shop, which encompassed a passion she harbored for mountain biking and allowed her to fund her education.
“They give young adults a really great opportunity to grow up and they’re really kind in that regard. Plus, I met my husband there.”
She might have had to take a semester off here or there, but once Miller graduated, she lost no time in going to graduate school.
“I really wanted to make sure that I had a skill that would always translate,” she says, explaining her choice to explore grant and technical writing. Also around that time, she came to a crossroads in her life due to an unfortunate mountain biking incident which resulted in a hip and back fracture.
“I had to find a new dream, because […] it was really hard for me to not be able to ride and be around bikes all the time,” she recalls.
She found a position at Garver Engineers which gave her an opportunity to explore technical writing in the field. But, not long after Miller found a way to be close to cycling again, and took a position with the Multiple Sclerosis Society which oversaw fundraising for a bike ride and three different walks.
“It really fit my groove well because I was able to take that marketing experience and my contacts in the cycling industry to help fuel that ride,” she says. She enjoyed the work, as she saw people rally around their loved ones living with MS.
After two seasons, she was promoted to the Director of Development for the North Texas Bike event. The event was scaled up, providing a learning opportunity, but unfortunately she had to commute from Little Rock to Dallas as her husband couldn’t move with her.
Over a year passed before life circumstances caused Miller to change directions.
“I received a call that my dad had some heart trouble and it wasn’t getting better so we decided it was time to come home,” she says. She was able to take the time to recharge and spend time with family.
She was ready to go to work again last fall, and signed on with the American Heart Association as the Director for the ‘Go Red for Women’ movement.
“Eleven women today in Arkansas are going to die of heart disease,” Miller notes, “and another six are going to die of stroke.” These staggering statistics provided a chance to make an impact through educating the sate populace at-large about heart disease and its risks regarding women.
When she got wind of an open development position with UA Little Rock, she was excited to potentially bring her passion for education and scholarship together to her alma mater.
She wasn’t so sure after the interview if she got it, but she remembers listening to a podcast the day she got the call.
“It was all about jobs and about how you have to take that next risk,” she remembers. “If you’re supposed to have a position – if it’s meant for you – it’ll happen. Literally 10 minutes after that I received a phone call for coffee with Holly and Andrea.”
One of Miller’s main goals since starting this past August is to get the word out about UA Little Rock’s quality education. “We have a tremendous amount of opportunity and we have a great rate of getting our students into graduate school and, particularly in the College of Business, of getting our students hired.”
Drawing on her own experiences, Miller is ready to grow scholarships as she says, “That opportunity that we can provide sets the student up to provide for their kids and grandkids.”
When not working, Miller likes to spend time with her husband and two dogs, hiking and biking in Central Arkansas, as well as working on renovating their home.