Heather Miller’s thesis won this year’s COSS Outstanding Thesis Award for “The Cost of Desegregation: Busing, Racism, and Privilege in Fresno Unified School District,” a thesis about desegregation in Fresno sought to understand the reality of the community she works in. Miller will receive an M.A. in history and first became interested in the subject in high school after taking a multicultural English class. It was the first time she was exposed to social history which she really enjoyed. 

“I’ve always been interested in the history of marginalized groups.”

Miller shared her academic experience at Fresno State in a Q&A

How did your academic journey at Fresno State begin?

I was an older student. I went back to college at 27, I transferred to Fresno State from Fresno City at 30. While in college I was also running my own business and raising six kids. I went to school to assure more security for my future and that of my children. I was the first in my family to go to college. Receiving my BA and now my MA was a huge accomplishment. 

What is your career goal? 

I have always wanted to be a teacher. I am now in my tenth year of secondary teaching. Although it is sometimes challenging, there is nothing I’d rather be doing.

What do you think about the College of Social Sciences (COSS) and our professors?

I think the professors in COSS are incredibly accomplished academics. My education has been rigorous, particularly the grad program.

Did you experience any challenges as a student?

Being a full time working mom in grad school was very challenging. The program is not designed for working moms. The reading load is incredibly heavy. I had to go part time which was financially stressful since the program took me four years to complete. I knew very few working moms that could complete it faster, most dropped out. Those that did attempt to do the program in 2 to 2 1⁄2 years typically did not do as well or participate as fully since they could not keep up with the reading.

What is your most memorable experience at Fresno State?

My most memorable experience was a study abroad trip I took to Ghana in 2007 as an undergrad. It was an amazing opportunity that broadened my understanding of cultural history. I met some of what became my closest friends on that trip and others of like mind and interest.

How do you feel about receiving the COSS Outstanding Thesis Award?

It feels amazing. My thesis took years and was a labor love. My research was focused on the community I work in. Having it recognized and more widely read is rewarding.

How do you think COSS prepared you for the future?

I think COSS, particularly my thesis project, prepared me for the present. The purpose of COSS is to help students develop a greater understanding of our social realities, it did that for me.

What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?

I see myself in the classroom, advocating for students and developing curriculum that is culturally relevant.

What is your advice for other students?

I would tell other students that you get out what you put in. The more one can commit themselves to the process the greater their growth will be. I would also encourage students to not be afraid to challenge professors and systems within the university that raise concerns around equity and accessibility.

Tell us a little bit about your thesis. 

I chose the topic of desegregation in Fresno to better understand the reality of the community I work in. As an educator it was apparent early on that not all students were receiving or engaging in the same education. I came to understand the intricacies of privilege and how those played out in our city. The story that unfolded was not simply those in support of desegregation and those opposed but rather how those who are privileged continued to benefit as systems change. This has helped me to better understand systems of oppression and how they operate..

I wish to thank my daughter, Grace Miller, for the hours of archive digging,discussions, and especially for the emotional support. Also, to my other children for occasionally being quiet when I needed to focus and to their father whose co-parenting and support made this endeavor possible. I’m also grateful to my partner in all things, Lars Johansson, for taking care of me and our life when I was otherwise preoccupied.

I owe special thanks to all of the professors who have guided me throughout this journey. Thank you to Dr. Clune for talking me into the impractical decision of pursuing my passion. Thanks to Dr. Bennett for being my biggest cheerleader and for convincing me that I belonged in graduate school when I felt out of place. Thank you to Dr. Cady for knowing when I needed a push and knowing when I just needed a laugh. I owe a special thanks to Dr. Skuban for being my mentor and friend for over a decade, no one has had a greater influence on my writing and intellectual development.

Most importantly, I’d like to thank Mary Curry and Mattie Meyers along with all the strong women whose names are left out of our history books but whose actions have changed our lives and our communities.