Assemblyman Brian Miller '79 highlights a lifelong journey of learning and service

brian millerNew York State Assemblyman and MVCC Alumnus of Merit Brian Miller ’79 is proud to be a lifelong learner.

From his years of experience as an engineer to working as an apple farmer to serving his constituency, Miller has gained all kinds of knowledge. “I learn something every day,” he says. “I yearn for that knowledge. I want to know about things.”

With an uncle who was a draftsman, Miller entered MVCC in 1977 set on what he wanted to do—become an engineer and a draftsman like his uncle, so he enrolled in the Drafting Technology program. “A lot of kids changed career paths; I didn’t,” Miller says.

While at MVCC, he was taught to be industrious, and says that he had a lot of great professors who trained him for the jobs for which he’d be applying.

After graduating, Miller went on a job interview where he was asked if he could take a bike apart and put it back together. “‘Of course,’” he recalls saying. “Putting it back together was a lot of what we learned [at MVCC].”

Engineering jobs in the area were scarce, though, when Miller was first looking. It was just when the landscape of Utica’s workforce was changing and many of the factories were closing.

Interested in seeing the western United States, Miller took his skills to Missoula, Mont., where he spent a year working at two civil engineering companies, resurveying mining claims and logging roads near Eureka and Glacier National Park.

When he came home, he was able to secure a job with Homogenous Metals in Herkimer. He began working in the company’s factory and moved to the engineering department as a draftsman after six months, eventually working his way up to design engineer. Miller says many of his co-workers were from MVCC, too. “It was a great experience, and during that time, that’s when I got into the public life.”

In 1993 at the age of 33, Miller ran for Bridgewater Town Supervisor, another career field that ran in his blood. His grandfather served as a Town Judge in Paris and his uncle was a Town Councilman. “When I was in high school, they always told me I was going to be the aspiring politician along the way, so I guess public life was always a calling, some place I wanted to be,” says Miller.

It was during this time that Miller purchased an apple orchard when the opportunity arose, and Miller’s Orchard in Bridgewater was founded. This venture taught him a lot about how to apply his skills in a new way. “When you’re an apple grower, you’re many things,” Miller says. “You’re a chemist. You’re a mechanic. You’re an engineer. A lot of the machines, we had to work on or design parts. You had to market and you had to advertise.”

After eight years as Town Supervisor, Miller was approached to run for the Oneida County Board of Legislators. He served for 16 years, during which he sat on every committee, was assistant majority leader, and chaired the public safety, public works, and government reform committees. It was in this capacity that he set up the Fire Hawks scholarship with MVCC, which he says is one of his biggest accomplishments.

The Fire Hawks scholarship provides 10 $5,000 stipends a year for students who commit to volunteering at a fire department for three years, take at least six credits per semester, and maintain a 2.0 GPA. “We talk about it everywhere we go and it’s a great opportunity not only for the young people but everyone who wants to volunteer in fire service and wants to continue their education.”

In 2016, Miller entered office after being elected to the NYS Assembly. He recalls that when he first went to Albany, someone commented that he wouldn’t fit in well because he was an engineer, but he disagreed.

“Government’s there to help people,” he says. “It’s not there to find ways to say no. We always try to find a way to help. We do a root cause analysis and then we come up with a corrective action plan. That’s the way we look at bills. That’s the way my staff looks at things. It all comes back to [MVCC].”

Miller says he’s led a pretty interesting life and hopes to leave a legacy in his wake that helps someone else, similar to the legacy he’s so far left in the engineering field. “Every piece of material that goes through Homogenous Metals goes through a machine that I designed,” he says. “They’re numbered, M1, M2, M3, M4, and the M stands for Miller. I’m no longer there, but a part of me is still there.”

He adds that his greatest accomplishment may yet come tomorrow, and it all started at MVCC. “It was a great place to go, and hopefully it’ll be a great place for a lot of people to go for many, many years to come.”