JOLIET, Ill. — Row crops and livestock were part of Tammy Miller’s day-to-day life on her family’s Livingston County farm and she now shares her experiences and helps guide college students toward agricultural careers.
Professor Miller teaches ag business, ag economics and soil science at Joliet Junior College and is also agriculture business coordinator.
“We raised row crops, pigs and other livestock on a farm near Chatsworth, Illinois. Pigs were the main livestock that we had, and I was active in 4-H and FFA,” Miller said.
“Being involved in 4-H and FFA really shaped my interest of getting involved in agriculture and then the opportunity to be involved in education came.
“I was active in the Prairie Central High School FFA Chapter and always knew that I had a passion for agriculture. That’s what my family did. We showed pigs and lambs during summer and we always spent time together that way. I showed at the county fair and the state fair. I was also active in livestock judging.”
“To me, there’s no better profession or organization than being in ag education and the impacts that it has.”— Tammy Miller, professor, Joliet Junior College
She and her husband, Matt, are carrying their passion for agriculture on to the next generation with their children, Hannah, Holden and Hayden, who are involved with the family farming operation, 4-H and FFA members and raise show pigs.
“As you work with students you know that value of ag education, and then when you have your own kids you witness its benefits more on a day-to-day basis. To me, there’s no better profession or organization than being in ag education and the impacts that it has,” Miller noted.
As she neared the end of high school, Miller knew she would follow a path to a career in agriculture. She just wasn’t exactly sure what career that would be, an experience she uses to help her students today.
“When I was looking to colleges I knew I wanted to start at a junior college first because I was interested in FFA and livestock judging. I had done some athletics in junior high and early on in high school, but FFA and livestock judging was kind of my sport. That was my extracurricular activity. That’s what I enjoyed,” she said.
“During my senior year in high school I was on the Illinois State 4-H Livestock Judging team and so that is what helped me decide that I wanted to go to a junior college first and pursue livestock judging that way.
“It’s probably one of the best decisions that I’ve made in my life because it really exposed me to the opportunities there are in agriculture. It was a tremendous networking experience. Some of my best friends come from my years here at Joliet as a student.”
When Miller first enrolled at JJC, she “thought for sure” that she wanted to major in animal science and ag communication for her four-year degree.
“One of the reasons I was drawn to communications is I liked being with people, liked speaking and advocating for agriculture,” she said.
Her career aim transitioned during her education at JJC into an interest in ag law.
“I was going to help serve the agriculture community by being an ag lawyer. When I left JJC, I went to U of I thinking I was going to do the law school route,” Miller said.
“Then I started thinking that I wanted to be more involved directly with people than I do with the law and some of the constraints that that would be. So, by the time I left U of I, I graduated with a master’s in ag economics and I realized the opportunities of potentially teaching at a junior college.
“I didn’t start college thinking that for sure I wanted to be a teacher. It was just over the path that I started to realize it. As the course work went on and the classes and the opportunities for me went on, it looked like education was a good fit.
“I realized I enjoyed connecting with students and enjoy helping them figure out their path and provide encouragement.”
After earning her master’s degree, Miller remained at the University of Illinois as visiting teaching associate in ag economics for one year. A position then opened up at JJC in 2000.
“I valued so much what the program at JJC did for me as far as opening connections, being a quality academic-first institution and to me just the things we do for students,” she said.
In her role as ag business coordinator, she’s in charge of the program’s curriculum, advising students and internship placement.
“Internship placement is a big aspect of the program that we have for all of our students, regardless if they going the applied science route or the transfer route. We offer a summer internship and for the applied science students we have a final spring internship,” Miller said.
“I coordinate with the ag business and ag production employers for the summer internships and for the spring I handle the ag business. We’re helping build a network of industry partners that potentially even employ them for their full-time opportunities, get them exposed to what opportunities that are out there and getting them work experience within the industry.”
Making A Difference
In her work with students, Miller hopes to make a difference in whatever career paths they choose.
“You hopefully feel like you’re doing right by someone else, that what you’re doing and what your efforts are, are helping or making a difference. What I enjoy the most about it is those students and helping connect with them, helping them get exposed to what career opportunities there are,” Miller noted.
“I thought I knew what I wanted when I started college and I made a couple of turns before my career was formalized within the industry. So, helping students figure out what the opportunities are, helping them navigate college and exposing them to opportunities.
“I think my favorite part is just working with the students and helping them not so much just with the course work but with them as a person. What are our goals? What’s the end game and how I can help them get there is what I enjoy the most.”
Miller particularly enjoys what she calls “a family atmosphere” at JJC.
“One of the things I like about JJC is that you’re not just a number. We know you. We know what your goals are and we want to help achieve those,” she said.