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WM: Learning to Live with Technology

While some kids grew up glued to their phones or video games for entertainment, Jackson Miller ’23 preferred playing outdoors.

His summers were spent getting dirty, running around barefoot with his younger brother exploring the woods and studying the tiny creatures that surrounded his Wabash, Indiana, farmhouse.

Jackson Miller ’23 sits under a tree with his laptop“I was a big, nerdy country boy,” says Miller, a 10-year member of 4-H who had a passion for entomology. “I would grab jars, collect bugs, like butterflies, and then use little pins to spread out the wings for display and make them look pretty. My bug collection was pretty extensive.” 

Because he was raised in a Mennonite family, much of Miller’s childhood was unlike that of most Wabash students.

“Technology and computer skills weren’t stressed in the house,” says Miller. “We didn’t have a TV in our living room. We didn’t have internet. We just didn’t use it.

“It wasn’t a part of my parents’ upbringing, so it wasn’t a part of mine and my brother’s,” he says. “In many ways, I’m thankful for that kind of lifestyle and growing up in a world that prioritized nature.”

Education was another priority stressed by the family, Miller explained, especially by his mother, who is a college graduate.

“The choice was always ultimately mine. I had the option to follow in my dad’s footsteps and work on the farm, or I could pursue a path in life that included going to college,” says Miller. “My mom and her parents really encouraged me to further my education after high school.

“From a young age, I figured out I didn’t want to do manual labor,” he says. “I was never lazy—my dad made sure of that. I started doing construction work with him when I was 14, and I realized then that I didn’t want to make a life out of it. That’s when college clicked for me.”

Miller experienced a lot of firsts moving to Crawfordsville to attend Wabash.  

The biggest adjustment, of course, was the required use of technology. He had to quickly learn how to use a computer to complete his coursework, conduct research, and communicate via email. 

“Email came with a lot of anxiety,” says Miller. “I knew that every time I opened it, it was going to have something I had to do. It was always pestering me. It was this evil thing I had to deal with every day.

“I was thankful for the guys in my house [Phi Delta Theta] for being patient and helping me along,” he says. “They witnessed moments where I would be a little aggravated and say, ‘OK, what do I do to send this email?’ For them, it was simple, but for me it was constant learning.” 

As he began finding his footing with technology, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and forced Miller to continue his studies virtually from home.

With no internet at home, Miller had to drive into town and find a spot with free Wi-Fi, like the local library, in order to attend classes. 

“That was a struggle,” says Miller, who was eventually able to convince his family to connect internet to the home. 

“It wasn’t that we couldn’t have it, we just didn’t have any cable lines or anything that led to our house,” he says. “My uncle has a grain silo, so I helped him put a satellite dish on top of that so that it would get information and then beam it to our house over a sightline. That was an interesting, fun project.” 

During that time in his Wabash career—and many others that would follow—Miller said he had to learn how to be an advocate for himself and to also lean on his professors. 

“I was never a person who liked to ask or admit I needed help, but being a college student isn’t easy,” he says. “That’s a big part of why I chose to come to Wabash. I would have gotten lost if I had gone anywhere else. Compared to other bigger schools, this place seemed more old-fashioned. It seemed like even though I didn’t have the strongest technology skills coming in, the professors would take the time to show me how it all worked.”

Another first at Wabash for Miller was being part of a diverse community. As a member of Phi Delta Theta, Miller got the opportunity to live with and learn from students from different cultures and places around the world. 

“I can read Spanish,” he says. “Before, I only understood German and English. But now I can sit in a room with my brothers who speak Spanish and can jump in the conversation or just absorb the language.”

Miller says there was a lot of culture sharing in his fraternity. The brothers often cooked meals for each other and swapped stories about their own lives and experiences. 

“On the weekends, I’d cook Amish-Mennonite type food, like homemade cinnamon rolls, my brothers from the Texas-Mexico area would make taquitos with flank steak, or my pledge brother from Hawaii would make fried rice,” he says. “It was just fantastic.

“Being open to sharing cultures has promoted understanding amongst a diverse group of guys and has helped me grow. I became more comfortable with sharing who I am,” says Miller. “I think that’s been the greatest driver of my education—the ability to interact with such different bodies of people.”

Miller’s academic advisor, Political Science Professor Lorraine McCrary, was one mentor he says helped keep him on track at Wabash. 

“She’s been a great advisor, a great counselor, and someone who always went above and beyond to support me,” says Miller. “She helped shape me professionally, academically, and personally in ways I can’t possibly describe. I don’t think I would have made it to the finish line if it weren’t for her patience and resilience.” 

McCrary says high school wasn’t hard for Miller, but college was difficult, especially those first couple of semesters.

“I’ve seen really bright students who don’t learn how to work hard or adjust to college requirements, which are different from high school,” she says. “That can be a make-it or break-it.”

Miller didn’t let it break him. 

McCrary says she’s proud of the growth and strength he’s shown over the past four years. 
“He embraced vulnerability early in his freshman year and was honest about who he was and how he saw himself in the future,” she says. “He’s very bright and worked hard to figure out how the rest of the world works. Seeing that he could make that transition, move forward, and thrive was wonderful. 

“I see a lot of myself in him,” McCrary continued. “I was homeschooled, which is not the same as his experience, but I too felt a cultural difference when I came to college. That gave me empathy toward him, but it’s also served as an encouragement that we’re all in this together.”

After spending last summer as an intern, Miller was welcomed back to Indianapolis-based law firm Kroger Gardis & Regas LLP after graduation and hired as a public relations and marketing specialist.

“As an intern, I focused on education, municipal, and public policy practices so I felt like a half-lobbyist, half-lawyer. I loved that. I loved meeting with Statehouse representatives and advocating for our clients,” he says. “I look forward to continuing to learn and grow professionally with the wonderful attorneys, paralegals, and staff.” 

Having passed the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Miller says he plans on working for at least a year to get more experience and to save money for law school. During that time, he hopes to get a better idea of what concentration he is most interested in practicing.  

Whatever he ends up pursuing within the field, Miller says he wants it to involve actively employing empathy. 

“That’s what Wabash has taught me,” he says. “That’s what I hope to pass on to other people, this spirit of empathy, of giving, and not living life for yourself, but for others.”

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