Augsburg News

News Archives - 2001

Matt Milless: Lessons in culture

April 2001

Amid the sunny beaches of Key West, Fla., Matt Milless tended bar and fished in the warm, tropical waters. He had fled to the popular tourist destination in 1999, immediately upon receiving his master's degree at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

"I lived in Key West for a year," says Milless. "First I worked as a cook for Marriott Hotels, but a couple months later I left to work at a local restaurant as a waiter, bartender, and occasional cook." He also helped a friend open a coffee and sandwich shop.

The journey south served as a much-needed hiatus from academia. After receiving his bachelor's degree from Augsburg in 1998, he was accepted into Ball State's graduate program in higher education administration. He completed the program in one year and one summer.

Having passed through Key West once before, he relished the thought of its easy-going personality. It seemed the perfect place to lay low and observe humanity. The region, which attracts visitors of diverse faiths, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds, fascinated Milless.

"Culture plays such a huge role in my life," he says. "I've always had a desire to learn and understand other cultures." He found himself picking up bits and pieces of several languages—Spanish, German, French, and more. The experience served as a real-life extension of Milless's academic studies in multicultural affairs.

"My major at Augsburg was a self-designed major in multicultural studies, with an emphasis in sociology," says Milless. "My degree allowed me the opportunity to explore other ideas and different cultures."
Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Milless chose Augsburg because it was one of very few small, private colleges situated in a major metropolitan area. "I'm Augsburg's biggest fan," he says. "Augsburg recognizes the value of multiculturalism and the value of its location in an urban area. I walked away appreciating my education; it provided me with a great foundation to enter grad school and the professional world."

While an undergrad at Augsburg, Milless co-chaired the first two annual Diversity Weeks. "It was a life-shaping experience," he says. "I really felt a sense of accomplishment." He helped raise thousands of dollars to bring in such national figures as Chuck D, activist and member of rap group Public Enemy, and activist Jane Elliott.

In addition, while attending Ball State, he worked as a grad assistant in the college's multicultural affairs office. He also completed an internship at Butler University in Indianapolis as an advisor in the office of student activities.

Today, Milless is assistant director of student activities at Union College, a small, private, nondenominational college in Schenectady, N.Y. "It's great to be working on a small campus. Because of my experience at Augsburg, I knew that I wanted to find a job at a similar college," he says.

He accepted the position August 2000, feeling the itch to bid farewell to Key West and return to academia. "I advise students and support their ideas and programming. It's really been a good experience, with opportunities to meet interesting students of different backgrounds. Right now I'm developing Respect Day, and putting together a committee of students to write a statement or 'code of respect' for students to sign and support."

Ultimately, Milless would like to get his Ph.D. and become a dean of students at a small, private college—somewhere like Augsburg.

"Minneapolis and Augsburg are where I have felt most at home—I loved it there."