Lisa C. Miller

Excellence in Teaching

Associate Professor of English
College of Liberal Arts


Following through on a promise

 

Lisa C. Miller

At the beginning of her classes, Lisa Miller asks students to tell her something about themselves. To give back, she shares something personal about herself—often mentioning her study of tai chi, a form of Chinese martial arts. Last spring Miller made an additional bargain with her Issues in Journalism students. She promised them a tai chi demonstration in reward for their hard work.

As part of the Credibility Roundtables Project, a national journalism initiative, the students performed a difficult, semester-long audit of political bias for The Nashua Telegraph newspaper.

"One of the great things about the project," Miller recounts, "is that it really empowered them." They actually discovered there was not a lot of bias in the paper, but that "we all come to the stories with our own bias." Readers then ignore statements they agree with and focus on those they disagree with, resulting in a perception of bias, the students decided.

The Telegraph served as a test site for the initiative, says journalism professor and program director Jane Harrigan, and the UNH students' bias study became a part of that. "A nationwide editors group hopes to use the project as a model that other newspapers and universities can follow," she explains.

Miller says, "The students were doing real-world research nobody else had done. In the end, they had knowledge nobody else had. I'm trying to figure out how to do that in every class."

"Lisa was born to teach," says Harrigan. "Her entire being springs to life when she walks into a classroom."

A product of the English department, Miller received both her B.A. in English and her M.A. in nonfiction writing there. She was a beat and general assignments reporter for the Gloucester Daily Times, then assistant news editor and senior news editor, before returning to UNH to complete her master's degree. As a journalist, she has to her credit some 1,800 hard news and feature stories, columns, and reviews of books, movies, television shows, restaurants, and music.

In the 20 years she has taught at UNH, Miller has authored a book, Power Journalism: Computer-Assisted Reporting, one of the first textbooks on the subject of computer-assisted reporting; served as faculty adviser to the student-run newspaper, The New Hampshire; and was the prime mover behind creation of the Donald M. Murray Journalism Laboratory in Hamilton Smith Hall. She also helped start the department's new Visiting Alumni Journalist Program, which was initiated in 2004 with a campus visit from Wall Street Journal editor Ron Winslow.

But first, and foremost, she is a master teacher. "Professor Miller's students appreciate her knowledge, her enthusiasm, her dedication, her high standards," says colleague Andy Merton. "They applaud her for her kindness and concern. At the same time, they admire her toughness. Not an easy trick to pull off."

In May, at the end of last spring semester, Miller kept her promise to her students. Wearing a loose black jacket and pants, and carrying a sword, Miller went out to the grassy front lawn of Hamilton Smith Hall. There, with her class watching—as well as English department chair Janet Aikins and program director Harrigan—Miller performed her tai chi sword form, a pattern of movement that requires intense concentration. It took about 45 seconds to complete. "I didn't dare look directly at my students," she admits, "or I couldn't have done it. But I understand a few cars stopped on Main Street too."

—Mary Peterson