Stephen D. Miller
Research, commitment to students draws Andrew Vanvig Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award
Stephen D. Miller was born in 1946 in Greeley, Colorado, and grew up on his family's dairy farm where cows and crops were raised. Cows were the farm's primary focus, but Miller had a strong aversion to the bovines.
"I did a lot of milking, getting up at 4 a.m.," recalls Miller. "I never did enjoy it."
In addition to his cow milking duties, Miller had to hand-hoe the sugar beet fields, a tedious chore but one that sparked his imagination; his loathing of cows and interest in crops set him on course to become a weed scientist.
"I said there's got to be a better way of controlling weeds than a hoe," he recalls. "That seed was planted in me early since I was helping weed the beet fields when I was little. That's why I went into agronomy."
Miller attended Valley High School in Platteville, Colorado, and graduated in 1964 then enrolled in Colorado State University (CSU). He met his wife, Bonnie, in Greeley, and they were married in August 1969.
The Millers raised two children, Jason, who now lives in Wamego, Kansas, and Eric, who lives in Laramie. The former is a crop consultant in Kansas and the latter is a financial adviser at Warren Federal Credit Union.
"I am very proud of everything my dad has accomplished over the years, and he has had a very long, illustrious career," says Eric. "Everyone I have ever talked to who has either worked with him or studied under him has had nothing but great things to say."
Miller received his bachelor's degree in agronomy at CSU in 1968; a master's in agronomy at North Dakota State University (NDSU) in 1970; and a Ph.D. in agronomy at NDSU in 1973. His thesis investigated "Post emergence wild oat control with Trialate."
Then, Miller spent the next 12 years on the NDSU faculty before he started work at UW in 1987. Miller says he came to UW because of Harold Alley, a preeminent weed scientist on the UW faculty. "Harold was thinking of retiring," says Miller, "and so when I talked to him he indicated that there was a position available. I applied for it and got it and within six months Harold retired."
During his career, Miller finished 65 graduate students at UW and NDSU – 39 master's and 26 Ph.D. students. He says all made and continue to make significant contributions to weed science. "My biggest enjoyment teaching at UW was working with graduate students and making them productive weed scientists," says Miller.
He became director of the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station in 2005 after Jim Jacobs, the former director, retired. The Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station serves as the research arm for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The office administers two internal grants programs plus provides administrative oversight for the college's four research and extension centers.
Initially, Miller was not keen on the position.
"I hemmed and hawed for a long time but finally took it and said I'd do it for five years," says Miller. "My career goal was never to become an administrator – it was to be a weed scientist, but I did step in when the need arose."
Miller mentored and ultimately hired his assistant, Bret Hess, at the time a professor in the Department of Animal Science, who became director following Miller's retirement.
"I have always appreciated Steve for being clear and deliberate in his decision making and for his ability to have frank discussions about virtually any issue," says Hess. "His demeanor is such that it does not take long to know where he stands on a particular issue, yet he is a tremendously kind and compassionate individual. He is a very unique person because he truly cares."
Miller, who retired in 2010, says getting the Lifetime Achievement Award was unexpected.
"I was shocked when Dean Galey called and asked if I would be willing to accept the award," says Miller. "I said there's got to be more qualified candidates than me."
Eric wasn't surprised.
"He was probably the hardest working person I have ever known and has definitely helped instill great work ethics and made me the hard worker that I am today."