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The Humphrey School of Public Affairs is the University of
Minnesota's school of policy and planning.

The perfect mix: Space science, finance and a public affairs degree

Kevin MillerDespite a soaring career, Humphrey graduate remains grounded

When Kevin Miller (MA ’87) began studying for a master’s degree in public affairs, he never imagined that one day he’d be working alongside astronauts, scientists, and technicians on space shuttle flight missions. As a program business manager for NASA, Miller has worked on missions involving the Hubble telescope—as well as several other less publicized projects—and says that the “cool thing is that you get an education,” in things like earth science and gravitation, while working in finance.

“I’ve been privileged to work with some of the smartest people on the planet and I’ve had the great opportunity to learn about so many things,” says Miller, who is stationed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, working side-by-side with teams that build intricate instruments and parts for space missions. “Most of the stuff we built for the Hubble servicing mission, we built right at Goddard. As a non-technical person, it is great to be a part of this: you ask questions to understand what people need, so that gives you a greater understanding of all that’s involved in a space mission.”

As an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, Miller earned a history degree and then spent two years in the Peace Corps drilling water wells in small West African villages. He credits that experience—specifically supervising a team of eight—with his interest in project management. After leaving the Peace Corps in the mid-1980s, a slow job market motivated him to apply to the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Miller says, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Humphrey School. I had an undergraduate degree in history and the job market wasn’t in good shape. I networked, made great friends, and it opened the doors for me to get a job. I got everything out of the Humphrey School that I hoped for and more.”

Miller ended up at NASA after completing the presidential management internship program, which was started by the Carter Administration. The program connects recent graduates with government agencies for a two-year internship that serves as a trial period; successful pairings often lead to offers for interns to become civil service government employees. A native of Eagan, Miller chose NASA over other governmental entities like the Environmental Protection Agency and his career took off.

As a program business manager, Miller’s job is to interface with NASA headquarters and meet with project teams to make sure they’re on budget and have the support they need. He calls himself more of a “generalist,” who needs to know budgets and also how things work. Working on three different Hubble missions, Miller has traveled to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch two shuttle launches: the thrilling results of tedious work for months—or sometimes years—preparing for missions. Despite his role in space exploration, the excitement of launches, and the overall “cool factor” of his job, Miller remains humble and says the more important part of his work is helping others grow.

“The only reason I’ve gotten as far as I have is that people have taken time to help me and mentor me. The most important thing that I can do is turn around and reach down my hand to the next person coming up the ladder.”

Photo courtesy of NASA.