Video by Columbia College Video Production Specialists Dustin Hawkins and Mark Baumgartner


Dr. Mary Miller doesn’t miss a beat when asked about her source of inspiration as a professor in the Education Program at Columbia College.

“I take my job very seriously because when I look out at my students, they are my kids’ future teachers,” Miller says. “Nothing could be more important to me than making sure that my kids and everybody’s kids have high-quality teachers who care about them.”

Miller, who received dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of Missouri and her Ph.D. in Language, Literacy and Culture from Vanderbilt University, joined the CC faculty in 2017. She specializes in linguistics, including early childhood and elementary literacy development.

She received the Deans’ Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2022.

Columbia College Education Professor Dr. Mary Miller instructs students during a class inside St. Clair Hall. Photo by Columbia College Photographer & Graphic Designer Abigail Wade

She aims to layer on the content she teaches in her Education classes in a way that allows her students to connect their learnings to hands-on practice in the field.

“I try to help create a community in the classroom where we’re all learning from each other’s experiences,” she says. “We like to place students in different levels of schools and types of schools, so they get a well-rounded experience. It’s those kinds of formative experiences we’re able to talk through. We put it all together, and that helps guide students to a path that’s going to be the best fit for them in their future careers.”

Miller credits the supportive environment at CC for fostering a positive, constructive culture where the teachers of tomorrow are built up and equipped for their first job placements.

“CC is a great place to come and pursue your degree in education and certification,” she says. “You will get so much time with your professors in small class sizes and get to build relationships with your colleagues and peers in ways that you don’t have that same opportunity elsewhere.

“We have support built up along the way for our students.”

Columbia College Education Professor Dr. Mary Miller interacts with students during a class inside St. Clair Hall. Photo by Columbia College Photographer & Graphic Designer Abigail Wade

Five questions with Dr. Mary Miller

1. What do you think makes CC unique?

“I think what makes CC special is our small, close-knit community. I love the fact that I get to know my students in Education. I have them for multiple years in multiple classes. I know them. I don’t just have them in class, we’re close and it’s like a family. The culture really fits with who I am and sets CC apart. We have a personalized learning program for each student. You get to know your professors, those professors are your advisors; and together we create a plan that is going to work best for you. Students in our Education Program can take classes on the Day Campus, in the evening if that works better in their schedule or online if that works best. There’s such a degree of flexibility.”

2. How would you describe seeing things click for your students?

“Anytime students share an example of, ‘Oh my gosh, there was a teaching practice we learned about on Monday and then we tried it out on Wednesday, and we saw kids learning and getting connected’ – that’s the whole goal right there. Our students having the opportunity to use what we talk about in class to teach kids and have joyful learning experiences themselves, that’s everything for me. I get to see them grow.”

3. What drew you originally and even still today draws you toward your passion for linguistics?

“I have always loved being a language-learner myself. I love traveling and getting to know different people and speaking different languages. I have gravitated toward that. Language, culture, identity, community, it’s all interrelated. Getting to teach about language is an opportunity to teach about all those other areas, too. When I put it in context of preparing future teachers, I’m helping them think about their students’ languages and cultural resources that they bring to the classroom. How can you build a community amongst all of that in ways that honor who students are and who their communities are and help them build those strengths? It all connects like that.”

Columbia College Education Professor Dr. Mary Miller speaks after writing on a whiteboard during a class inside St. Clair Hall. Photo by Columbia College Photographer & Graphic Designer Abigail Wade

4. What are some commonalities you’ve noticed in Education students at CC?

“I think commonalities I’ve noticed in the Education students are a drive to teach and make a difference in the lives of their future students. They care about kids, they are passionate about teaching, they want to learn and to grow. That’s the joy of doing my job and being a professor in Education. Every class we take, there’s a very clear goal and reason for that. I get to say, ‘Hey, we’re learning this today, because tomorrow we’re going to go and use it.’ They’re excited about that with me and we’re united around that common goal and purpose. Students come from all different backgrounds and different places geographically, but they enter into our Education program and they really are in a cohort. They take a lot of classes together and become their own little family through that.”

5. What’s the range of career possibilities for graduates of the Education Program?

“I am so proud of the students coming out of our Education Program. The majority – and in these past couple years, it’s been everybody – get education jobs. The cool thing too is a lot of times, they don’t just stay as teachers; they really grow as leaders in their schools and in their school districts. With the teacher shortage happening right now, we’ve also seen students who do their student-teaching, but as full teachers on provisional certificates. So they’re actually getting paid as full-time teachers while they’re doing the student-teaching and then getting hired. The opportunity for teachers is incredible. (Our Education graduates) go on to get jobs. It’s amazing. I’m excited that our students become part of the solution.”