A three-time graduate of USF, Edna Jones Miller was motivated to pursue a career in higher education thanks to her student involvement activities on campus. This spring, Jones Miller was recognized as the 2021 recipient of the College of Education’s Young Educator Award, an award that’s presented to a graduate age 35 or younger who serves as an exemplary leader in the field of education among their peers and in their community.
Upon graduating from high school at 16-years-old and beginning her undergraduate studies at USF at 17, Edna Jones Miller envisioned a future that involved capturing the action on-screen while remaining behind a camera as a television producer.
Her student involvement activities on campus, particularly with USF’s Campus Activities Board (CAB), eventually moved her to pursue roles in higher education.
“I found a home at CAB,” Jones Miller said. “When I learned that you can actually do student development and co-curricular type of work for a living, I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Working as a student activities advisor for Hillsborough Community College, the three-time USF alumna began her doctoral studies at the College of Education in 2008. In 2016, Jones Miller earned a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Higher Education Administration, an accomplishment that would enable her to excel in positions like her current role as a Dean of Students where her mission is to provide a holistic student experience for today’s college students to achieve their life goals.
“I knew in my undergraduate years that I was going to pursue a PhD because I wanted to provide the same level of transformational impact that I had experienced,” Jones Miller said. “I wanted to make sure I was positioned in a way to have both the academic credentials and professional experience to be successful.”
Throughout her doctoral studies at USF, Jones Miller forged lifelong relationships with a cohort of diverse professionals and passionate faculty.
She recognized two USF faculty members as her mentors: Thomas Miller, EdD, the Higher Education Administration’s program coordinator at the time, and Wilma Henry, EdD, a previous coordinator for the College of Student Affairs master’s program.
Jones Miller also recognized Jennifer Meningall, the previous vice president of student affairs at USF, who took the time to chat with her about her dissertation, which focused on the importance of social integration and student involvement of African American undergraduate women at predominantly white institutions of higher education.
“I was 22 when I started the program, and I just wasn’t sure what I could bring to the table that could be insightful for this experienced group of people—that is my classmates and my faculty,” Jones Miller said. “But they really encouraged me to be thankful for my fresh eyes, to lean into the fact that because I was so young, I was the closest to the student experience, and that gave me greater insight into what was discussed, postulated and theorized in class.”
Challenged to grow in and outside the classroom, Jones Miller took on a position as the coordinator of student organizations for USF and became a part-time instructor of two undergraduate courses.
After graduation, Jones Miller transitioned to Valencia College (West Campus) as an Assistant Director of Student Development, then entered her current role as the dean of students for Valencia College’s Downtown Campus in Orlando, a shared campus with the University of Central Florida (UCF).
Since then, she’s taken on responsibilities that include building a robust campus life that suits both Valencia and UCF students, increasing community engagement, and co-leading with UCF to increase employment opportunities for students through academic programs.
“I consider myself a critical thinker and a problem-solver who reduces barriers for students,” Jones Miller said. “I work a lot with students who don’t have (the financial means) to pay tuition, students with housing insecurities, and others who just have trouble navigating through (college). Helping students to break down barriers to achieve their goals is what I’m most passionate about.”
This year, in addition to being selected as a “40 under 40” honoree by the Orlando Business Journal, Jones Miller was recognized as the 2021 recipient of the College of Education’s Young Educator Award, an award that’s presented to a graduate age 35 or younger who serves as an exemplary leader in the field of education among their peers and in their community.
“I am speechless and completely overwhelmed and overjoyed,” Jones Miller said. “I’m very honored to be recognized in this way. I didn’t anticipate it at all.”
Outside of her work at Valencia College, Jones Miller is active in helping others reach their goals. In January, she launched Edna Jones Miller Enterprises, a company that provides clients with high-quality editing and consultation services. She also launched a professional development blog titled “Wealth in Wisdom,” which offers life strategies that support personal wholeness and total well-being.
Jones Miller’s advice for those who aim to follow a similar path as hers is “don’t quit.”
“There are going to be things that happen in your life that are beyond your control,” Jones Miller said. “You can’t give up. Life happens, but you’re greater than your problems.”