Spotlight - Harrison Milanian

Harrison Milanian

by Lindsay Ederheimer

Harrison Milanian decided to view a horrific accident as a wake up call- a chance to change jobs and build a fulfilling career.

When a drunk driver nearly ended Harrison Milanian's life, he decided to view the horrific accident as a chance to build a fulfilling career.

The 23-year-old USF grad was riding his motorcycle on I-75 last August when a drunk driver in a pickup truck t-boned him, sending him spinning into a ditch.

"I broke all of my ribs and needed emergency brain surgery," Milanian said. "The doctor said I had about a one percent chance of survival."

While slipping in and out of a coma, Milanian recalls hearing doctors asking if they should pull the plug on his life. One of the surgeons came to his bedside, put a hand on his shoulder, and asked Milanian to "show him a sign" if he wanted to live. Milanian opened his eyes and stared at the surgeon for a few moments before losing consciousness again, motivating doctors to give him a few more days on life support. He is thankful they did.

"The mind is an amazing machine," Milanian said. "Within two or three days, I was awake and talking. It was as if my brain was a computer, and somebody pressed the restart button."

After six months of hospital treatments and physical therapy, Milanian was ready to get back to work. Before the accident, Milanian was working with human resources for a few businesses in Wesley Chapel. However, he aspired to a new career path- one that he could physically handle and also fulfill him spiritually and emotionally. Milanian decided he would become a teacher.

"I wanted to do something different than what I'd done in the past, and something that would be good for my health," Milanian said. "I've always loved kids and interacting with people. I had never considered being a teacher before, and I wanted a new adventure."

Milanian's life isn't lacking in adventures. The Tampa native moved to New York City the week after he graduated high school. An aspiring chef and restaurant owner, he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America for two years. Following graduation from cooking school, he came back to Tampa to study business at USF.

"I wanted to someday open my own restaurant, but I didn't know anything about money or running a business," Milanian said. "I didn't want to be manipulated by investors or employers when I was starting out."

Milanian put his new business knowledge to the test when he started his own catering company while still in college, helping him earn more than $50,000 before graduation.

"I learned some invaluable lessons about how business law works, how to delegate jobs and manage people effectively, and how to network," Milanian said. "All of which helped me run a successful small business."

Perhaps Milanian's most unexpected adventure was his walk across America in 2013. What started as an idea to drive cross-country to the Grand Canyon turned into a personal test of strength for Milanian, walking 3,200 miles on foot from Florida to California over a 92-day span.

"It was the most amazing experience of my life," Milanian said. "At first, I just wanted to see the world and meet people along the way. But it turned into so much more than that."

Once word got out about Milanian's voyage, he boasted an impressive following on social media. People would meet Milanian at his daily destinations, bringing him food, clothing, and providing housing for him when he needed it.

"Sometimes, people would invite me into their homes and I would cook dinner for them," Milanian said. "It was really beautiful, learning about people and bringing them together."

After weeks of traveling across the country, Milanian returned to USF to finish school, adjusting to the college routine once again and feeling unsure about his next step in life.

Milanian caught the travel bug and got involved in international mission trips, traveling to Ireland, China, India, Honduras, Thailand, and Central and South America to build homes and provide resources for impoverished communities across the world. He also served as a camp counselor in Central Florida, discovering his love for children and leading students.

"I graduated college and realized that maybe opening my own restaurant wasn't something I needed to do right away," MIlanian said. "I've always wanted to help people and make an impact on others. After my mission work and the accident, becoming a teacher made the most sense for me."

Having no real teaching experience or certifications, Milanian went out on a limb and applied to be a high school math teacher this February.

"The motorcycle accident gave me an opportunity for a fresh start and some real direction in life," Milanian said. "I had to think about what I wanted in life long-term."

"I thought to myself, there's not a chance that I'll get this job," Milanian said. "I'm not qualified. I remember seeing my competitors sitting in the waiting room with me, waiting to be interviewed. I doubted myself."

But when Milanian went into the interview, they were curious about his résumé and life experiences. Within minutes, they were laughing and talking about all of the adventures Milanian had taken throughout his life.

"They told me they wanted to work with someone who was funny and relaxed and who could get along with anyone, especially children," Milanian said. "I left the interview feeling much better than when I came in. I got a call the same day saying I got the job."

"Everyday was a trial by fire," Milanian said. "My class had been taught by different substitute teachers for weeks, and the kids were totally checked out of school. I definitely didn't know what I signed up for those first few weeks."

By the end of the school year, however, Milanian found his way. His class had one of the highest retention rates and grade improvements this year, almost 15 percent higher than the average rates.

"I think a lot of my peers set the bar low, and expected me to fail since I had no experience," Milanian said. "But my class was energetic, warm, and excited to learn. We built a bond and worked together."

Milanian says his business degree gave him a unique perspective on teaching. He says that being a good teacher is just like being a good business owner or manager; in either position, people need to feel appreciated and smart managers know how to handle people's emotions.

"My business knowledge has made all the difference in my career now," Milanian said.