In recent years Miami has been nationally recognized for its excellence in undergraduate teaching, a tradition that has impacted year after year of Miami alumni. Matt Miller, assistant professor of history at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and 1990 Miami Honors alumnus, was not immune to this influential tradition. He recognizes his Miami professors as one of the reasons he graduated and moved on to get Masters and PhD degrees in order to become a professor himself.
Matt graduated from Miami in 1990 with a degree in chemistry, though he spent much of his spare time focusing on the humanities and social sciences. As a child he grew up with an interest in Russian culture and politics and was able to explore this fascination though an honors seminar on “Glasnost, Russian Literature, and Soviet Society” during his senior year. In the course, he read books that had been banned in the USSR. Recently, Matt published a book on the role of the YMCA among Russians, a topic that grew out of his studies as an honors student. He notes that he is “grateful for the interdisciplinary approach, creativity, and encouraging spirit of the Miami Honors Program.”
Matt took full advantage of the freedom of academic exploration available to him at Miami, taking history and religious studies courses outside of his major that prompted him to further his studies at Wheaton College. There he explored the history of Christianity, wrote a thesis on connections between the Orthodox Church and Russian life, and graduated with a Masters of Arts in the history and theology of Christianity in 1994.
After finishing his Masters degree, Matt spent two years studying the Russian language at Moscow State University. He and his wife lived in this city for several years in order to pursue research, teach, and become immersed in Russian culture. He began doctoral studies in Russian history at the University of Minnesota and focused his study on the service of the YMCA. He completed his PhD degree in 2006.
In 2008, Matt became a professor at Northwestern College, teaching courses on European and Russian history. He plans to continue teaching while meeting Russians living in the United States and researching the experiences of recent immigrants. During the summer months he leads student groups to Moscow. His newly published book, The American YMCA and Russian Culture: The Preservation and Expansion of Orthodox Christianity, 1900-1940, is another addition to the growing bookshelf of Miami Honors alumni.
Looking back on twenty years since his time as an undergrad in the Honors Program, Matt is glad that he took classes outside his major. He reflects, “I took classes that shape my interests even today. They weren’t something to just get a grade. I had no idea at that time that what I was learning would influence me later.” Although Matt initially had his sights set on chemistry, he encourages others to “make full use of the opportunity to learn things beyond your career path.” After all, it led him on an journey across the world.