Director Trades Courtroom for Classroom; Focuses on Experiential Learning for Students

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Dr. Karen Miller, Ph.D. and director of the School of Social and Behavioral Science at West Virginia Wesleyan College, has always had a passion for justice.  With an expertise in the death penalty and wrongful conviction, the Kentucky-native stepped into her director role in June 2013 with long-term goals for the School in mind, including the addition of a Social Justice major.

“Our Social Justice program is a huge development,” stated Dr. Miller.  “We developed this major with the assistance of faculty across campus.  We created an interdisciplinary curriculum and are continuing to develop the program by adding new coursework.”

The topic of social justice is no stranger to Dr. Miller, who served as a mitigation investigator for the Department of Public Advocacy in the 1990s.

“As a high school student, I wrote a research paper on capital punishment,” recalls Dr. Miller.  “The topic piqued my interest about the people on death row more so than the crime they committed.  My role as a mitigation investigator was to convince the jury not to give the death penalty.  It was horrible and fascinating work.  It took an emotional toll on me, so I decided to fight the death penalty in the classroom instead of the courtroom.”

So Dr. Miller began her career in education, working as an adjunct and visiting instructor at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), eventually becoming an assistant professor.  Dr. Miller then took an assistant professor position at Glenville State College before coming to Wesleyan as an associate professor in 2008 before gaining tenure in 2012 and assuming directorship roles in 2013.

A renowned scholar, Dr. Miller has published nine articles, six book chapters, and has presented 23 papers at national conferences on topics ranging from social justice to the death penalty and wrongful conviction.  She is also working on research for the Journal of Interpersonal Violence regarding university student attitudes toward bullying.

Although Dr. Miller spent much of her education focusing on life-time crime and punishment, the administrative role is one of which she is proud.

“My whole life had been immersed in murder and death, and it permeates every part of you,” she stated.  “My professional life has been a good evolution, and I have enjoyed my career trajectory.  I spent time as a new director learning the ropes, and there have been some trying moments.  However, the faculty in my School amazes me daily.  They are available, interested, and will walk through issues with students.  They are dedicated teachers first and foremost.”

For prospective students thinking of a career in the social or behavior sciences, Dr. Miller encourages them to look at Wesleyan.

“We set our expectations high and face experiential learning head-on,” she said.  “We give students a chance to apply theoretical concepts to real world events.  Most majors require an internship, we allow our students exposure to their chosen discipline before they graduate.”

When Dr. Miller is not in front of students in a classroom, you may find her traveling to Europe or South America, swimming with manatees, or riding bicycles down Pike’s Peak in Colorado.

Dr. Miller obtained her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Kentucky in 2004, her master of science in criminal justice from EKU in 1995, and her bachelor of science in criminal justice from EKU in 1994.

For more information on the School of Social and Behavioral Science, please contact Dr. Karen Miller at miller_k@wvwc.edu.