Rodrick Miller had been away at college for precisely one week when he got the telephone call all kids dread. It was from his dad.
“Don’t make me come down there.” Huh?
“Don’t make me come down there to that college and yank you out.”
Miller had just concluded his first week at Raleigh’s St. Augustine’s University — nee College — and taken one test in a business orientation class. He’d gotten an A and was feeling quite pleased with himself.
His teacher, Executive-in-Residence Len Ward — was feeling less so.
“Despite my grade on the test,” Miller recalled, “Mr. Ward had called my father and told him I wasn’t performing up to my potential. That’s when my dad called me.”
Whatever his dad said, it helped get Miller in gear, because the 1999 St. Aug’s grad has succeeded at every stop since leaving the leafy university on Oakwood Avenue. That’s why Miller was earlier this year named CEO of Invest Puerto Rico.
His charge: To spur investment on the island as he has done in cities across the mainland United States. His degree in International Business from St. Aug’s put him in a position to lead revitalization efforts in Detroit, New Orleans and Phoenix, among others cities.
Even though he obviously learned a lot in the classroom, Miller insisted when we talked that it was what he learned outside of class that made the greatest impression on him.
“I remember my parents liking the way they interfaced with the faculty and administration, they liked that the school seemed to be the kind of place they could call up and say ‘What’s going on with my son?’ and they’d get a straight answer.”
That’s precisely what happened after the first week, he said.
When Miller went to see his teacher the next day to protest — “But I got an A” — the instructor told him “Yes, but this is a saaaaaad A. I’ve looked at your assignments. at the way you write, the way you think - and you’re not taking my class seriously and I don’t like it.”
“He said ‘You have the kinds of skills that would allow you to be at any institution you want to be, and you’re here at St. Aug’s. I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t take you to the level where I think you ought to be.’”
Miller also fondly recalled the division chair of the Political Science/International Business department. “St. Aug’s had just recruited a young, hotshot Ph.D candidate from Atlanta University named Emmanuel Oritsejafor.
“He called my parents, too, and told them ‘I’m the best. If you let your son be with with me... I’m going to mentor your son for the next four years, and when he leaves here he’s going to be razor-sharp.”
Having instructors like that who’d drive him hard no doubt helped Miller become the school’s only Fulbright Fellow, while studying abroad certainly helped Miller land his current prestigious gig.
“That, to me, is what made St. Aug’s special. You had faculty and administrators who treated you not like a student, but like a family member they were concerned about,” he said
After people see what type of students St. Aug’s can produce, Miller’s example should be able to spur investment in his alma mater, too.
Barry Saunders is a former News & Observer columnist. This column originally appeared on his blog, The Saunders Report.