Aruna Miller, a 1989 civil engineering graduate of Missouri S&T, has been a “first” several times in her life.
Most recently, on January 18, 2023, Miller was sworn in as lieutenant governor of Maryland — and as the first South Asian female to be elected to this role in the United States. On April 13, she returned to her alma mater and was inducted as the first South Asian female member of S&T’s Academy of Civil Engineers.
As a lifelong public servant, she has been a trailblazer on multiple other instances — both in her work as a transportation engineer and as an elected official for the state of Maryland — but she says that was never specifically the goal.
“It’s not lost upon me, being the first,” she says. “It’s a very profound moment. But I’ve got to tell you — being the first was never the assignment.”
For Miller, the assignment has been more about giving back and using her knowledge and experiences to be an effective public servant.
“I came to the United States when I was seven years old as an immigrant, and I have been afforded so many opportunities,” she says. “And with great opportunities comes a great desire to pay it forward. And immediately upon graduating from S&T, I dedicated my life to public service because that was my way of paying it forward.”
She offers three pieces of advice for anyone else who may be a “first” in the future.
“What I say about being the first is that you need to be grateful for everyone who worked to break ground for you so that you could be in this moment,” she says. “You have to be willing to step out of your own comfort zone and take risks. When you do get to be the first, make sure that you create opportunities for others and tear down barriers so they can be their authentic selves.”
Miller says her experiences at S&T helped prepare her for her time as a transportation engineer and as an elected official.
“I received a great education here at Missouri S&T,” she says. “It gave me a great foundation — a launching pad to be able to do the things that I wanted to do.”
“It taught me to be a problem solver. Many of the things, whether it’s engineering or in the space of elected office, it is about problem solving,” she says.
While a student at S&T in the late 1980s, Miller had several experiences and memories that she now cherishes. She fondly remembers celebrating St. Pat’s, making friends, being mentored by her professors, and interviewing celebrities, such as Jay Leno and Cheap Trick, for the student newspaper.
In terms of her best memory and takeaway from S&T, though, she credits meeting her husband, David, who graduated from S&T in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
She says she can remember countless hours the couple spent studying on the third floor of S&T’s library and date nights spent at Alex’s Pizza Palace. They have now been married for 33 years.
As for if Miller plans to be the “first” in any other ways moving forward, she doesn’t dismiss the notion, but rather says she intends to keep paying it forward however she can.
“I hope the future holds for me what the past held for me,” she says. “That is continuing to serve the public. I hope I continue to do that until I exit the material world.”
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top 10 universities for return on investment, according to Business Insider. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.