Personal Obstacles Inspire Alumnus to Champion Future Researchers
The experiences Earl K. Miller, ’85, Ph.D., had at Kent State inspired him to give back.
As a first-generation college student, Earl K. Miller, ’85, Ph.D., struggled to fund his education, and this experience motivated him to help students at Kent State University who face similar financial difficulties.
Through a bequest, Earl and his wife Marlene M. Wicherski created The Earl K. Miller First Generation Scholarship and The Earl K. Miller Last Dollar Scholarship, both of which will aid students with financial need.
“I wanted to give something that helps those students,” Earl said. “My parents were running out of money, but I managed to make it through with Pell Grants and working over the summers and breaks. Money was always an issue.”
Earl and Marlene have made a concerted effort to help students in the sciences and psychology pursue their degrees and gain important laboratory experience to develop skills for graduate school and the workforce.
When Earl was a pre-med major at Kent State, his advisor suggested that he spend some time working at a research laboratory on campus before applying to medical schools. On this recommendation, he took a volunteer position at a neuroscience laboratory in the Department of Psychology.
“I remember doing my first experiment,” he recalled fondly. “In that moment, I thought, ‘That’s it. I want to be a scientist.’”
During his first laboratory experience, Earl worked under the supervision of Richard M. Vardaris, Ph.D., who treated Earl like a scientist from his first day.
“Kent State changed my life,” he said. “I was given the independence to make my own mistakes and figure things out. I am happy to give back.”
Earl and Marlene’s philanthropy has also supported the Brain Health Research Institute (BHRI) Undergraduate Fellows Program. This is an immersive program for first- and second-year students who are interested in pursuing careers in neuroscience research, education, healthcare or related areas. In addition, they have created The Earl K. Miller Medallion Scholarship for academically gifted undergraduate students in the psychological sciences and The Earl K. Miller Professorship of Neuroscience.
After graduating from Kent State, Earl attended graduate school at Princeton University, where he earned his Ph.D. in psychology and neuroscience in 1990. He served as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Mental Health for five years before securing a position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is now the Picower Professor of Neuroscience in The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.
With his expertise in neuroscience and passion for the future of brain health research, Earl has developed a strong relationship with the BHRI. The institute’s research focuses on the development of new approaches aimed at understanding an array of neurological disorders by identifying genetic, environmental and behavioral influences that impact brain health across the life span. Earl is currently the chair of the BHRI Advisory Board, and he has served as featured speaker for the BHRI grand opening in 2021 and 10th Annual Neuroscience Symposium in 2022. He is also special advisor to Michael Lehman, Ph.D., director of the Brain Health Research Institute.
“They're working at the cutting edge of what's going on in neuroscience right now and bringing together diverse approaches to attack the same problem,” Earl explained. “It’s exciting not just that they're focusing on an integrative, multidisciplinary study of the brain, but also that they’re focusing on brain health.”
Michael Lehman is grateful for the example Earl has set for current students, as well as his continued partnership with the institute. Earl is bringing his wealth of knowledge to help guide the BHRI into the future.
“Earl had experiences here as a young person that transformed him and led him down the path of what ultimately has become an incredibly successful and enjoyable career for him,” Michael said. “It is wonderful to have Earl as resource for our students and researchers, as well as an engaged partner.”