April 29, 2013

Faith Miller wins Sturgis public service award

by Christi Mathis

Faith Miller

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Faith Y. Miller does not recall the first time she got involved in volunteer work. 

Perhaps it was helping with Vacation Bible School or other church work.  Of course, there was her service in the U.S. Army as a communications specialist for three years, followed by a decade in the Army Reserves. 

What is certain is that helping others has been a lifelong commitment for Miller, an associate professor of dental hygiene at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. In recognition of her extensive public service, she is the recipient of the 2013 Lindell W. Sturgis Memorial Public Service Award.

The annual award, presented by the SIU Board of Trustees since 1980, recognizes SIU Carbondale employees for public service unrelated to their jobs.  Named after a Metropolis native who served more than 30 years on the SIU Board, including a term as chairman from 1969 until retiring in 1971, the award carries a $750 cash prize.  Sturgis passed away in 1972.

“I was very surprised to learn in a personal call from the Chancellor that I had won the award,” Miller said.  “Service is just the core of what I do, not thinking of recognition, but just to benefit other people.  I will do whatever I need to do.”

Miller’s association with the University goes back many years.  She earned an associate degree in applied science in dental hygiene, a bachelor’s degree in health care management and a master’s in workforce education and development, all from SIU.  She has also completed dozens of hours in the workforce education and development doctoral program and hundreds of hours of continuing professional education in her field.

While serving in the Army, Miller reached the rank of staff sergeant and won the Army Achievement Medal for meritorious service.  Her career since includes extensive experience as a dental hygienist in several private practices and clinic settings.  She became a clinical instructor in the dental hygiene program at SIU in 1999, and then earned promotions to assistant professor in 2000 and associate professor in 2006.  Miller’s experience also includes work as a seasonal dental hygienist with the Migrant Farmworkers’ Health Service for Shawnee Health Service and Development Corp., and similar work for the Community Health Partnership’s migrant children sealant program in Aurora. 

Despite family obligations and a very busy work schedule that includes extensive publishing, committee service, professional association involvement and conference appearances, Miller has been involved in a wide variety of public service activities throughout her lifetime. 

She has helped organize a dozen health fairs with dental hygiene students offering free oral health and/or cancer screenings, has co-chaired voter education forums, participated in numerous American Cancer Society Relay for Life events, and volunteered at the Eurma C. Hayes Center Family First Dinner, the Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and Expanding Your Horizons Math and Science Day. 

She is also very active in New Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and their service projects.  She is a “Power Over Diabetes Ambassador,” coordinating efforts by a number of African-American community churches to provide people with valuable information about diabetes, stroke, cancer and other health topics. 

Miller is the faculty adviser for the undergraduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and has led the students in numerous service projects, including the Emerging Young Leaders program, working with middle school girls in a variety of programs, and securing awards and grants along the way.  She has also held various leadership roles in the graduate chapter of the sorority. 

Miller played a large part in the development of the Dental Sealant Grant Program at SIU as well as its growth.  The program provides much-needed preventive dental care for local low-income children. More than 7,500 exams have been performed in the last five years alone.  This program is outside of Miller’s teaching duties and something she does to give back to the community and improve the oral health of area children, according to Charla Lautar, dental hygiene professor.

“Faith’s impact is profound -- helping a wide variety of community organizations in big and small ways, she has made Southern Illinois a better place for women, African-Americans and young people,” Lautar wrote in nominating Miller for the Sturgis award.

Jennifer Sherry, dental hygiene assistant professor and president of the Southern Illinois Dental Hygienists’ Society #12, also notes that Miller initiated a project to provide mouth guards and other such appliances for local children, and that through her projects she has travelled countless miles helping others.

“I have known Faith for more than 20 years and her energy level never wanes for the underserved.  She has been very passionate about her work and continues to make her work her passion,” Sherry wrote.

Miller has earned a number of awards previously for her teaching and volunteerism, including the College of Applied Sciences and Arts Teacher of the Year in 2010-2011, the Finer Womanhood Award for 2012 from the Mu Eta Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta, and the Shining Light Award from New Zion Missionary Baptist Church.  She is also a two-time winner of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Soror of the Year Award and won the organization’s Women Achieving Against the Odds award as well. 

Miller said her parents, both still active as older adults, set a good example for her. In turn, she has tried to teach her daughter Lindsay Miller, who earned a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from SIU in 2012, the importance of serving others.

After all, as Lautar noted in her award nomination, Miller’s “personal motto is:  ‘If we can’t give back, why are we here?’”