Six Degrees of Education

One diploma just isn’t enough for lifelong learner

Tom Miller

Seventy-two-year-old Tom Miller collected six sheepskins—bachelor’s degrees in political science, international studies, liberal studies, modern languages, anthropology, and geography—when he took the stage at the June commencement.

“I’m a student of learning,” Miller said. “I used the courses as a method of organizing my readings. I have about 3,500 books at home in my library.”

A retired Air Force officer who already has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering, Miller embarked on his degree-collecting quest at Wright State in 2000 at the age of 60 as part of the Senior Scholars program. He was interrupted only in 2009, when he injured his back and cracked some ribs in a fall while hiking across a stream in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Although Miller pursued multiple degrees at the same time and completed work toward them at different times, university regulations would have made it difficult for him to collect the degrees one at
a time.

“It’s quite a great story,” said Donna Schlagheck, Ph.D., chair of Wright State’s political science department. “Talk about lifelong learning. This guy embodies it.”

With an IQ once estimated as high as 203, Miller is in the top 1 percent of duplicate bridge players on the planet and is a formidable backgammon player. He won the chess championships at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base all 10 times he competed. He paints, hikes, scuba dives, and was once a competitive Latin ballroom dancer, traveling the country.

“For an engineer, this guy is truly a Renaissance man,” said Schlagheck. “I say that in the highest possible praise. Only an engineer could schedule that many majors.”


Miller grew up in Chillicothe, Ohio. He turned one of the rooms in the family home into a chemistry lab and would hang out at a nearby Mead lab as a boy, where he learned how to use a slide rule in the production
of paper.

Miller was a math whiz, but never studied in
high school.

“I took one book home for the fun of it—a trigonometry book—to solve all of the identities,”
he recalled.

Miller attended MIT, but didn’t last very long there, blaming his lack of study skills. So he joined the Air Force, tested out of the first two years of college, and was selected to become an officer in the aeronautical/astronautical engineers program.

After a 20-year career, Miller retired from the Air Force in 1978. He went on to work for the University of Dayton Research Institute and for several aerospace defense contractors. In 1999, he retired as founder
and CEO of CompuTech Strategies, an aerospace defense company.

In the past 24 years, Miller has helped 123 Republican candidates in their political campaigns. For the past six summers, he has worked at an archaeological dig at Fort Ancient, a site near Lebanon built by the Hopewell people.

“He really has an incredibly broad range of interests,” said Charles, Taylor, Ph.D., former dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “He’s a very different kind of student. He enriches the whole classroom experience.”

Miller’s studies at Wright State have touched on everything from Roman art and Irish literature to the Arab-Israeli conflicts. He studied German, Italian, and French, and actually posted his lowest grade point average in Modern Languages—a 3.800.

“Whenever I’m at parties and they play Trivial Pursuit, it’s always Tom versus the room,” Miller cracked.

Miller is undecided about his next adventure.

He is toying with the idea of working for a presidential campaign or perhaps seeking a position at London’s British Museum, which is hosting an exhibit in March on the archaeological artifacts of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

And there’s one more possibility.

“I’m thinking,” he said, “about going for another master’s degree at Wright State.”

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