I AM UAA: Melody Miller

by Kathleen McCoy  |   

Construction Management, Class of 2015
Hometown: North Kohala, Hawaii
Fun Facts: Met partner, Robert, while surfing and has a twin sister

I AM UAA MELODY MILLER Melody Miller is surprisingly tan for someone living in Anchorage, Alaska. And she's the type to wear a tank top and "slippers" (we Northerners might call them "flip-flops") in Alaska in May when there is still a bite of spring chill in the air. So it comes as no surprise when she mentions that she grew up in Hawaii (slippers explained) and currently works full-time during the summer for an Anchorage-based landscaping company, Green Earth Landworks (tan and tank top explained). Her friendly and calm demeanor lends an ease to learning her story.

Melody made the move to Anchorage in 2010 to be with her partner, Robert Tufi, so they could raise their daughter, Manuia (now 6), close to his family. Robert, of Polynesian descent, grew up in Anchorage and met Melody during a vacation to Hawaii in 2003.

A few years prior to meeting Robert, Melody was busy working on a vegetable farm, growing more and more interested in sustainability in land use and landscaping. By her third visit to Anchorage in 2006, Robert was working for Green Earth Landworks and introduced Melody to the owner, Christina Eneix. It was an easy decision for Melody to join their summer crew in 2007.

After Melody made the permanent move to Anchorage two years ago, she told Christina about her goal to go to college and her passion for sustainability. Christina, being a UAA alumna herself, suggested the construction management program at UAA's Community & Technical College.

"Christina is a very inspiring woman and a successful businesswoman," says Melody. "So I took her advice, looked into the program, and everything just started falling into place effortlessly."

Both Green Earth Landworks and UAA have fit Melody like a pair of well-worn slippers.

At Green Earth she is a manager foreman: overseeing construction sites as a certified erosion and sediment control lead (CESCL) to ensure compliance with storm water prevention pollution plans (SWPPP), managing the nursery that provides native re-vegetation options for clients and participating in the first nationwide (but Alaska-driven) Landscape Technician Apprenticeship Program through a partnership between Green Earth, the U.S. Department of Labor and Penn Foster Career School. She'll be the first graduate (and by default the first female and first Alaskan) of the pioneer project.

At UAA, she makes a point to find ways to plug into the campus community, from being a campus garden caretaker with the Sustainability Club to the activity coordination officer for the Construction Management Club. Also, she was recently inducted into Sigma Lambda Chi, the national construction honor society and, with a history of being a professional dancer in Hawaii, she has also incorporated dance into her class schedule as an elective.

"I took dance my first semester so I could balance out the new environment of being in college," she says. "I've been a professional dancer in Hawaii on the side, West African dance and hula. Part of my story is when I was a kid my mom was a drug addict, so a friend's dad would take us to hip-hop dance class and I think that was one of my outlets, you know, to be normal and to have fun."

Not everything about Alaska is all that different from Hawaii, though. She has been able to transfer her surfing skills to the slopes on a snowboard and she talks about how the states are similar in their beauty.

"They are both just so beautiful," she says. "They're very different, but they both have a striking beauty; that makes me happy to be here-especially in Anchorage, waking up to the mountains every morning."

Melody recently earned the Construction Financial Management Association Ron Jones Endowed Scholarship, and she came highly recommended from her professors as a role model to other students for her involvement in the campus community.

"I'm an overachiever, I really am," she admits. "Going back to my past, I think school was my safe haven. I did really well, even with everything going on around me at home; I graduated with honors and was always a 3.0 or above student. I wanted to go to college but just never had that encouragement, so I didn't right away. Once I had my daughter, though, I wanted to make sure she had someone to look up to. And it makes it fun for me to be involved; I want to be the one out there helping other people in the community."

As for the scholarship award, "it definitely helps the confidence and esteem," she says. "Recognition helps a lot for a striving student; it's very encouraging, for sure."

Melody is proud of her story because of the adversity she had to overcome growing up in an unstable environment. "Things could have gone in a different direction," she says. "I'm very lucky and blessed to have all these opportunities that I've had. My advice to fellow and incoming students would be to have big goals and dreams. Ask for help and make sure you're doing something that you're passionate about."

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