A family structure
Managing construction of the College’s $43 million science center is more than a job to Paul Miller ’87.
“It’s a wonderful project. It’ll be a cornerstone.” — Paul Miller
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It’s doubtful that any of his fellow freshmen knew the campus as well as Paul Miller did when he enrolled at Carthage.
Whether eating cheese popcorn while cheering on the sports teams, sledding down the hill toward what’s now Augie Schmidt Field, watching fireworks from the Trinity House lawn, or swimming at the former Seidemann Natatorium, he made the campus his childhood playground. His father was the late Professor R. William Miller, and the family lived a short bike ride from the College on 17th Street.
Paul Miller’s background makes it especially fitting that he will lead the construction of a new Carthage science center. He’s a senior project manager with Riley Construction, the Kenosha firm that is managing the $43 million project.
The project features a major renovation of the 70,000-square-foot David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Natural and Social Sciences and a new 35,000-square-foot wing. It will increase classroom and laboratory space by 40 percent, providing state-of-the-art facilities for study in the natural sciences and new ways for collaborative research between students and faculty.
While Paul is invested in every construction project he manages, he acknowledges this one is infused with a stronger dose of pride. With an accounting degree, he was one of three siblings to graduate from Carthage.
Now the family’s strong ties to the school have entered a third generation. His son Ryan ’16 and daughter Rachel ’18 are current students.
“For me, it’s not only making sure the classrooms are open for the College,” Paul said. “You can’t get more personally involved than that.”
Majoring in biology, Ryan likely will spend time in the transformed science center during his senior year. He teases his dad that the construction should have come a few years earlier.
“It would have been great to come here to a shiny, new science building,” Ryan joked.
Although she isn’t considering science majors, Rachel figures she’ll at least pass through the building on the way to class or Starbucks. She chuckles that her father’s role makes her feel like a minor celebrity on campus.
Both siblings said it was a given that Carthage would top their college wish lists. Rachel has happy childhood memories of the place, including an annual fall tradition when her grandmother would arrange a photo by Bill’s memorial tree. The sweetgum tree stands in a small grove in front of Hedberg Library.
“I’ve been here so much from being little that, if I didn’t come here, it’d just feel wrong,” Rachel said.
Her brother has more substantial memories of their grandfather, the revered faculty member who died in 2000. Ryan requested “the college books” from Bill as a young boy, long before he needed to shop at the Carthage bookstore.
“He used to read me encyclopedias, because I didn’t like the regular stories,” Ryan said.
After joining the faculty in 1965, Bill Miller founded the Geography Department and taught for more than 30 years. He was honored with the Distinguished Teacher of the Year award for 1989-90 and the Carthage Flame in 1999.
The appreciation was mutual. For evidence of his devotion, no one had to look farther than the fenders of his car. Bill ordered “CCW 150” license plates to commemorate the College’s sesquicentennial.
“It was everything to him,” Paul said. “He lived, breathed, and died Carthage.”
As the R. William Miller Distinguished Professor in the Natural and Social Sciences, Kurt Piepenburg ’77 holds the faculty seat that honors his mentor. An introductory course with Bill in the mid-1970s convinced him to switch his major from biology to geography.
“He managed to integrate everything,” Prof. Piepenburg said. “He was one of those Renaissance people. You began to see connections you didn’t always see.”
Bill Miller’s research had highly practical applications. Focused on transportation logistics, he served as a consultant to McDonald’s, Commonwealth Edison, and several local companies.
“I see a lot of Bill’s traits in Paul,” Prof. Piepenburg said, including the ability to synthesize information and anticipate challenges. “And I think they’re what you want in a project manager.”
Paul said the timetable remains on target for the building to open before the fall 2015 semester. The building additions were weathertight by the end of October, and mechanical systems are being brought online as the interior takes shape.
Carthage officials say the building will rank among the most advanced undergraduate science education centers in the country. It will offer 12 new interdisciplinary laboratories, collaborative learning areas, outdoor classrooms overlooking Lake Michigan, and many other student-focused amenities.
“It’s a wonderful project,” Paul said. “It’ll be a cornerstone.”