The generosity of Kenneth Miller, one of the first African Americans to attend MSU, continues to impact students

Mississippi State University alumnus Kenneth E. Miller passed away on Aug. 17, 2021, leaving behind a legacy of generosity and dedication.

Kenneth E. Miller started his journey with Mississippi State University in 1969. He grew up right down the road from Starkville, Mississippi, in Columbus, Mississippi. Coming into college at the ripe age of 15, he was not only the first member of his family to attend college, but also among the first African Americans to attend the university. 

Prior to Miller, only one other African American had completed the engineering program at MSU. His legacy did not end when he graduated from MSU in 1975, rather he continued to invest in the university throughout his life. Miller, before he passed, made a pivotal donation to the aerospace engineering department at his alma mater. 

Calvin Walker, senior flight test engineer at Raspet Flight Research Laboratory, shared he had only one personal conversation with Miller, but remembers him often through the donation he made to the department. Walker shared that the monetary donation made to the department by Miller was used in conjunction with other donations to purchase a simulator that would be helpful in advancing students' learning abilities. 

This simulator is used in a couple of classes Walker instructs on campus: an aircraft flight dynamics class and an aircraft design class. 

"They design their airplane using the design methodologies that we give them, and then they will then put that particular design into the simulator to see how the airplane performs or how the airplane flies or how the airplane handles," Walker said.

Miller left behind a legacy when he walked off of MSU's campus in 1975, but his influence extends far beyond the 39759 zip code of Starkville, Mississippi.  According to his obituary, Miller valued serving his country as well as his alma mater. 

"Ken served his country with over thirty years of civilian service to the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force and retired as one of the highest-ranking civilians in the Defense Department ... His final government service position was as Special Assistant for Acquisition, Governance and Transparency, to the Secretary of the Air Force. He exemplified honor, courage, and commitment in every interaction," the obituary states. 

His commitment to service led him to eventually establish and be president of KEM (Kenneth E. Miller) and Associates LLC, a business and management consulting firm.

His influence and commitment to his community lives on. Here at MSU, Miller's contributions continue to impact students. 

"If it wasn't for him and the donation that he gave, we wouldn't have been able to get the simulator, and the simulator has allowed students to have an understanding of handling qualities and flying qualities other than the equations that we give them in class," Walker said. 

Miller passed away on Aug. 17, 2021, in Arlington, Virginia, at 69 years old. He left behind his legacy as a pioneer for Black students to come through MSU, and also for students in the engineering department to do big things. Aside from his impact, he is survived by his wife, Victoria Miller, and his sons Kevin Miller and Kenneth Miller, Jr. 

There is a fundraiser in his name, the Kenneth E. Miller Excellence Endowment, that can be donated to through the Mississippi State University Foundation. It is in support of other African American leaders in engineering coming through the program at MSU.

Rani Warsi Sullivan, Ph.D., interim department head and professor for the aerospace engineering department at MSU, spoke about the importance of helping students go through the university's engineering program. She shared that the small department's faculty has always had an open-door policy to make students feel more comfortable asking them for help and guidance. The program also emphasizes the importance of work done in groups.

"This allows our students to hone a number of skills— not only technical skills, but soft skills as well," Sullivan said. "They work in teams, they collaborate, and this enables them to see things from many different perspectives."

MSU's aerospace engineering department has certainly developed in leaps and bounds since Miller's departure in 1975. Miller was able to see the department's progress over the years, progress which was influenced by his legacy there. This, Sullivan shared, is part of what must have encouraged him to make his generous donation.

"We would like to give a very holistic, well-rounded experience to our students, so that when they are graduating, they are ready to take their place in the workforce as an aerospace engineer," Sullivan said. 

Aside from his donation, Miller gave back to the Bulldog family by serving on the Department of Aerospace Engineer's board of advisors. He also participated in the MSU Black Alumni Advisory Council. He left behind a legacy so that students could learn from him and develop skills because of him, through the equipment purchased with his donation. 

"This is Ken Miller's legacy," Sullivan said. "The gift that he has given us is going to keep on giving, because the students that have benefited from it have gone on, but more are coming through and they are benefitting now from this simulation capability that we have, the ability to design an aircraft and then immediately to fly it to see its performance." 

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