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Class of 2016: Nina Miller thrives despite late diagnosis

May 2, 2016

Nina Miller poses on campus.
Nina Miller will graduate this spring with a bachelor's degree in agribusiness and minors in leadership and religion.

Nina Miller always did exceptionally well in school. Tests were easy, she didn’t have to study, and her hyperactive lifestyle was perfect for living life on a farm. Miller even said that she never cracked a textbook in high school.

But then, she arrived at Virginia Tech.

She made an effort. She started studying and took notes, but her grades plummeted. Her GPA started inching dangerously close to academic probation status. After some consultation with Cook Counseling Center, Miller was tested and diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and a learning disability.

Right before the beginning of her sophomore year, Miller of Rockingham County, Virginia, a senior majoring in agribusiness in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, received accommodations from Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). She began to meet with Academic Coach Michael Brown, but she was skeptical. In the back of her mind, she was preparing for one more semester at Virginia Tech before being kicked out because of her grades.

In the first semester she participated in academic coaching, Miller went from almost failing out of college to making the Dean’s List. Most students would be overjoyed, but Miller remained unconvinced.

 “I thought that maybe these accommodations were making college too easy for me,” said Miller.

Brown told Miller, however, “It’s not that we’re making it easier. We’re leveling the playing field.”

Ever since that conversation and her academic coaching sessions with Brown, Miller’s time at Virginia Tech has been marked by success and influence. She will graduate this month with an agribusiness degree and minors in leadership and religion. Miller serves on panels and as a facilitator of discussions for SSD, and she is proud of the fact that she can be a mentor to younger students.

In March 2016, Miller was selected as a recipient of the Division of Student Affairs Aspire! Award, honoring her self-understanding and integrity. Brown nominated Miller and cited her growth and development despite her disabilities, as well as her work with the SSD office.

Miller said that she always wants to try something new, and she attributes this “favorite trait” to her ADHD. She said that, after she got over the shock of this diagnosis so late in her education, she decided, “OK. I have this. Now what can I do with it?”

Last spring, Miller travelled to Ghana to study abroad. Other than getting lost in Istanbul on her way to Africa, Miller said that her time there was life changing and life-giving.

“I hate school, but I love learning,” said Miller. “I love the classes that I can do. Being in Ghana, I loved learning about the culture by experiencing it.

“So many times, we let the little stuff of who we are get in the way of getting to know other people. For the first year after my diagnosis, I was really shy and ashamed of my disability. I thought people would look at me and think, ‘She’s not smart. She can’t handle this.’ But I’ve learned to be OK with who I am. It allows the space for me to get to know people at a deeper level. It gives people the chance to say, ‘Yeah, me too. I struggle too.’”

Miller often tells people, “I have ‘dis’-ability, ‘dis’-ability, and ‘dat’-ability.” She has no problem claiming her diagnoses because she thinks of them as abilities instead of disabilities, and she recognizes that they don’t hold her back.

Hailing from a small town in rural Virginia, Miller calls Blacksburg a “big city.” She said she was confused when everyone was awake after 9:30 p.m. and no one was up at 5 a.m.

After getting past the late nights and late mornings, Miller became incredibly involved at Virginia Tech. She is an intramural sport official and supervisor with Recreational Sports and has been named official of the week and alternate of the week multiple times. In November 2014, Miller was named employee of the month. She also officiates middle school and junior varsity football and middle school and varsity volleyball for local organizations and schools.

Miller is a member of the Wesley Foundation, where she previously served as worship minister. She volunteered with a tutoring program for local middle and high school students and led a weekly meeting to pray with her peers and share in their faith journeys together. She’s also a member of Fieldstone United Methodist Church, and she has dedicated much time the church’s youth group and to reviving their community garden to provide food for a local food pantry.

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Following graduation, Miller will pursue a master’s of divinity at Duke Divinity School. One day, she’d like to run a farm open to kids in the foster care system, with the hopes of teaching them about life and faith in the same environment she grew up in.

Written by Holly Paulette.

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