Heretics Club Hosts Health Center Director Dr. Miller

Jessica Benman

“Obviously it’s clear we need to expand the chapel basement,” Adjunct Professor of the Health Sciences and Director of Student Health Services Dr. Merrill Miller said to the large audience that attended her talk titled “The Oh-So-Many Things That Changed My Life…A Lot Happens When You Live Into Your Sixties.” Last Thursday, March 27, Miller treated Heretics Club to a summary of her life story and her time here at Colgate.

Miller’s parents were first generation Americans who came from Russia in the early 20th century. They both attended college, and, as such, education was always valued in the Miller family. Miller graduated from Jamaica High School in Queens, N.Y. at the age of 16 and went on to college at Cornell University, where she concentrated in biology and minored in political science. She spoke fondly of her time at Cornell, specifically highlighting the diversity of the student population and the enthusiasm supporting the sports teams. She also mentioned her unique special connection to the school: Cornell is a seven-letter word ending in a double “L,” just like the first names of her and her siblings, Russell, Daryll and Kimball.

Miller was on the path to getting a PhD in biology when a summer research position at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York changed her mind. During her time there, Miller worked on an initiative to scientifically prove that smoking cigarettes was harmful. She worked in the chemistry division, which meant that she would suction various brands of cigarettes through filter paper, then test and purify the leftover substances. These chemical compounds would subsequently be painted onto the backs of lab animals, and their effects were observed.

 “It was pretty grotesque to see what happened to those mice,” Miller said.

Miller remarked that her time in the lab was enjoyable but that she really wanted to interact with people, and so instead of pursuing research, she applied to medical school. She studied at the University of Buffalo, and in her senior year she decided to specialize in hematology and oncology. In this vein, she discussed the potential of mentors and role models, both in the determination of her specialty, and just over the course of her life in general. She completed her residency at Buffalo and then went to Syracuse for her fellowship, which is when she started coming to Hamilton to visit her patients. Eventually the position of Director of the Health Center opened up, and after some persuasion Miller was convinced to take the job.

“In the 1980s, Colgate was changing,” Miller said, largely referring to the introduction of girls to the university. New buildings were being erected to accommodate the new population of female students, a mandatory summer semester was instituted, and the Women’s Studies Department was first being planned. Miller spoke about what a pleasure it has been for her watch Colgate transition into the school that it is today.

“There is nothing like the exuberance and enthusiasm of a college campus,” she said, “and it has just been a privilege to take care of the tens of thousands of students that have come through here.”

Miller concluded the talk on a touching note by reading the names of the members of the Colgate community who are no longer with us.

Heretics Lunch is a weekly brown bag that takes place in the chapel basement every Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. This semester’s theme is “The ______ that changed my life.” Next week will feature Associate Professor of Philosophy David Dudrick giving the talk “There and Back Again: Not a Hobbit’s Tale.”

Contact Jessica Benmen at [email protected]