UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Douglas Miller, who received three degrees from Penn State; worked as a research assistant, research associate and professor at two colleges; and established and led the Center for Environmental Informatics for 20 years, retired in July and earned emeritus status.
Miller began working at Penn State as a work-study student at the Office for Remote Sensing of Earth Resources in 1978. During his graduate studies, he continued to work with ORSER, a center within Environmental Resources. Research Institute, the forerunner of the Energy and Environment (IEE) institutes, as a research assistant until he obtained his doctorate in soil science in 1999.
âI feel like the luckiest person in the world to have had the kind of support and mentorship that I have received at Penn State over the past 44 years,â Miller said. âI worked in two different colleges, three university departments, two institutes and had offices in nine different buildings on campus. I enjoyed it immensely.
Miller said two accomplishments stand out as career highlights. The first was the opportunity to develop what has become the Environmental Informatics Center.
âIn 2001, I had the chance to Dr. [Eric] Barron and Dean John Dutton to start an outreach center at the Environmental Institute of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, âMiller said. “It became the Center for Environmental Informatics, now part of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, and it’s still doing well over 21 years later.”
Then, around 2003, Miller experienced the second highlight of his career. He had the opportunity to help create the new online professional master’s program, MGIS, developed by the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute and delivered through the Penn State World Campus.
âSeventeen years and over 500 graduates later, we remain one of the best online programs in the world,â Miller said. “It was an absolutely fantastic experience working with colleagues from both of these groups.”
Miller said he had always considered himself to be a general-trained Earth scientist who harnesses geospatial technology to understand the Earth system.
âAlthough my first love was geomorphology, I recently started to think of myself as a ‘landscaper’ because soils, geology, topography, vegetation and climate are inextricably linked in the landscape,â Miller said. . âUnderstanding how humans interact with these components is essential to being able to manage our planetary future. “
Miller said his more than 40-year career at Penn State has also been shaped by the evolution of technology.
âI have seen the integration of technology into all facets of our day-to-day experience as researchers and instructors, from the introduction of the personal computer to the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones, âhe said.
These interests also led Miller to form the Mobile Geospatial Systems Group, whose members use drones to image the earth’s surface for various ecosystem management applications.
âWe were among the first in the University to get started with UAS and helped develop the University’s security protocols,â he said.
Along with technology, Miller said he has also observed the growth of the student body and bureaucracy at the university.
âPenn State now has almost twice as many students as when I was in first year in 1977,â Miller said.
Research and engagement with colleagues and mentoring graduate students are the things that Miller says he will miss.
âDoug is probably the most influential and best mentor I have ever had,â said Nooreen Meghani, who worked at the Center for Environmental Informatics. âHe recognized my passion for teaching and learning early on and invited me to be part of his research group where I was able to familiarize myself with remote sensing, lidar and all kinds of GPS units. Doug encouraged me to learn to fly drones and get my remote pilot license. Working for and with Doug has allowed me to recognize a passion that shapes my life – I went back to school for my PhD, something I don’t think I would have done without Doug’s encouragement and confidence.
Miller said that in retirement he plans to learn fly fishing, travel and spend time with his grandchildren.
âI’ve been here at Penn State almost continuously for almost 44 years,â Miller said. âI’ve been a faculty member for more than half of my life, and while I’m still in relatively good shape, I want to hang out with my family, travel and just enjoy life. “