Barbara Ryder (left), head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Computer Science; Richard Benson, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering; and Mary Miller, founder of Interactive Design and Development.
Mary Miller, president and founder of Interactive Design & Development in Blacksburg, who earned her master’s degree in computer science from Virginia Tech in 1985, is a 2010 inductee into Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering Academy of Engineering Excellence. She joins an elite group of 97 individuals out of more than 55,000 living engineering alumni.
The Academy of Engineering Excellence was founded in 1999 by F. William Stephenson, past dean of the college of engineering, and the College’s Advisory Board. This year marked the eleventh anniversary of the first induction
When Mary Miller showed her father the letter informing her of her nomination to the Virginia Tech Academy of Engineering Excellence, the 89-year-old retired engineer from McDonnell Douglas had tears streaming down his cheeks as he told her, smiling, “You came from good genes.”
She agreed, saying she inherited her father’s mathematical abilities, and she had strong role models who encouraged her along the way. Miller entered Virginia Tech in 1968, when women were less than a tenth of the student population.
As a female in a predominantly man’s world, she was sidetracked for a while before truly finding what doors her talents could open. She sought her first degree in elementary education because she knew women could get teaching jobs. Certified to teach in K-12, she landed her first full-time position as a sixth and seventh grade teacher in Pulaski County.
She took a sabbatical after three years to have her two children, Matthew and Mandy. Her traditional route was about to stop. In 1979, after she had returned to work, teaching math through the Marion Job Corp., she decided to take a class in programming at Wytheville Community College.
She arrived at the fully enrolled class with an attitude. “I planned to force add (the course) even though the professor, Bill Durham, a retired NASA programmer, said no one could be added," she says. "I stayed after class, and told him that he wanted me in his class, and that I would be his best student, and I would even help the others."
Her tenacity worked, and she credited him with inspiring her “to think more, to do more, and to return to Virginia Tech for my computer science (CS) degree.”
Virginia Tech was just beginning to move its faculty into computing, and the Provost at the time, David Roselle, was requiring two faculty from each department to take Dr. J.A.N. Lee’s CS course.
Since Miller was Lee’s assistant, she taught a good number of these classes, and by the end of the term, she had four job offers from within the University. Fortuitously, she selected the one from Mitch Giesler who was the Dean of Extension.
“It was a life-changing job," she says. "I had one year of a guaranteed salary, and then I needed to fund myself with grant money. Interactive video was just taking off,” she says, and she entrenched herself in the new arena.
In 1986 her work in computer interactivity netted a $1.3 million grant, and the lab called Interactive Design and Development (IDD) at Virginia Tech was born. IDD was soon picking up some significant projects such as a grant to produce a CD Rom of agricultural information for the National Agricultural Library.
She earned her PhD at Tech in 1996, the same year IDD was named one of the top 100 media developers in the U.S.
She was the first woman to serve as the president of the Blacksburg Rotary Club, and she is currently the president of the NewVa Corridor Technology Council, representing some 208 companies in the region. She is a former member of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering Advisory Board and is currently on the University’s Computer Science Advisory BoardShe was chosen as an Outstanding Woman Alumna at the 75th Anniversary of Women at Virginia Tech in 1996.