Leah Miller: Determined Dreamer Destined for Duke

While other Copley High School students went to Friday night football games and dreamed about prom, Leah Miller had her sights set on what lay ahead. 

In both middle and high school, Miller took advanced courses. By the time she completed her sophomore year, she had earned nearly all her high school credits, setting her up perfectly to begin College Credit Plus (CCP), a program designed to allow college-ready students, who qualify for college admission, the opportunity to earn college credits.

Miller’s interest was piqued by CCP when her older brother participated in the program as a high school senior. Plus, she just really wasn’t into the whole high school scene.

In fact, her junior and senior years weren’t spent at Copley High School at all. She wouldn’t set foot on her high school campus again. 

Enter Kent State University at Stark.

 “I had gotten my license when I turned 16 in March,” said Miller. “Then, I started at Kent State Stark that August.”

Just a high school junior, Miller experienced quite the transition to college life.

 “It was definitely nerve-racking. I had an idea going into it that college classes would be harder than high school,” she acknowledged. “The classes themselves weren’t horrible… I was in honors classes, AP classes (in high school), so I would say they were about the same difficulty-wise and time- management-wise. 

But it was different. 

“You only met twice a week,” Miller explained. “You (met) for an hour instead of 40 minutes every day, so just adjusting to it was a bit different, but I’m so glad that I did it.”

Fridays are for opportunities

Since she was a full-time CCP student at Kent State Stark, Miller didn’t have any classes on Fridays. But being the overachiever and big-hearted person she is, she chose to volunteer at Akron Children’s Hospital during that free time.

While at Akron Children’s, she ran errands and visited with children in different units. She took families back to see their children post-procedure in Outpatient Surgery and helped discharge patients. 

“My favorite was the holiday season when we wrapped presents and put together bags for the patients with about three presents, a blanket, stuffed animal and coloring book,” said Miller. “We then passed them out with Santa on Christmas Eve.”

Miller walked in the Copley High School graduation in Spring 2018 with 58 college credits – nearly the equivalent to that of a college junior – and hundreds of volunteer hours under her belt. And, though she considered transferring to the Kent Campus, she remained at Kent State Stark, bound and determined to get into the rigorous, world-class nursing program. 

But getting into the program wouldn’t be an issue. She graduated with a 4.0 GPA, and had already taken the Introduction to Nursing course with Kent State Stark’s Cherie Mountain, M.S.N., R.N.-B.C., while still in high school.

‘Healthcare and children’

Although Miller loved every one of her nursing classes, she was specifically taken by a half-semester pediatrics course entitled, “Healthcare and Children”.

“Growing up, I never had younger siblings, but I had always known I wanted to work with kids. I just wasn’t sure to what capacity,” she said. “My first job was a swim lessons instructor, and I was level two and below – so the young kids – and it was such a fun time helping those kids learn how to swim.”

With the “Healthcare and Children” course, there was a clinical held at a place happily familiar – thanks to her volunteering experience.

“We were at Akron Children’s on the hematology/oncology floor… so, that was super nice to be able to see what it was and reinforce that, yes, that’s what I wanted to do,” Miller explained.

She was inspired by the children she worked with – their grit and outlook on life.

“These kids – obviously, no kid wants to be at a hospital – but they really try to make the best out of the situation,” added Miller. “They may be hospitalized and unable to leave their bed, but they’re still wanting to play games and they’re still wanting to help you do whatever you’re doing.”

Landing her dream job

Miller always dreamed about moving somewhere warm. Winters were rough growing up. There were too many birthdays, holidays and special moments her father, who worked for the city,  had to miss because he would be called in whenever it snowed. 

While job searching, an opportunity arose in Durham, North Carolina. It seemed too good to be true.

“I was just looking and looking, and out of the blue one night, I looked at Duke University, and I saw that they had (an opening for a) pediatric bone marrow transplant nurse for a new graduate,” said Miller. 

She went back and forth on whether to apply or not. But what would she have to lose?

“I applied on a whim,” Miller said.

And the following Tuesday, Duke University Hospital requested an interview.

“We had the interview scheduled for that Friday, and then a week-and-a-half later they called and offered me the job,” she said. “So, it was such a quick experience. I never thought it would happen that fast!”

The first person in her family to enter the medical field, Miller and her family visited the hospital over spring break, further solidifying her decision to take the leap and make her dream a reality. 

“It’s exactly what I want to be in. I wanted to be in pediatric oncology in some aspect, and pediatric bone marrow transplant seems like the perfect fit,” she said.

The day after Kent State Stark’s Nursing Convocation, at just 21 years old, Miller will move to North Carolina and begin working at the hospital in July. 

A stepping stone

Miller made the most of her time at Kent State Stark. She worked for two years as the Nursing Lab’s student assistant and represented S.C.R.U.B.S. as the student organization president. Her face is a familiar and friendly one on campus.

In addition to her peers, Miller has made great connections with the nursing faculty, who have nothing but good things to say about her and her work ethic. 

“Leah is the epitome of integrity, professionalism and hard work,” said Chrissy Kauth, R.N., Ph.D., professor of nursing. “She has been nothing less than amazing as a student. I know, without a doubt, she will be a professional, competent and caring nurse that will do great things in our profession!”

It’s fitting that this year, nursing faculty chose Miller as the Academic Achievement Departmental Award winner.

As the icing on the cake, thanks to the CCP program, scholarships, Kent State Stark’s affordable tuition and the hard work of Miller and her parents, she will graduate a debt-free Flash.

Unsurprisingly, Miller is already looking past graduation and onto what’s next. 

“It will be a stepping stone,” she explained. “You went through college – that was a stepping stone. You’re graduating, going into that next phase of your life. And then it’s NCLEX, job and moving all in a row! So, it’s just a great progression. It shows where you’ve come from, where you are currently and then where you’re gonna go.”

And we can already tell she’s “gonna go” far.

POSTED: Monday, May 10, 2021 12:39 PM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 02:57 PM
Brielle Loughney