major: Elementary Education '19
VERMILLION, SOUTH DAKOTA
Vermillion, South Dakota native Audry Miiller first became familiar with Mount Marty College when her sister Elly was an undergrad, and when it came time to make her own college decision, Audry followed in her sister’s footsteps.
As a Mount Mary freshman, she knew what to expect from campus, but she had no idea how her own Mount Marty experiences would impact her, or how her studies would help her understand others’ perspectives and life stories — even those in the state prison — to uniquely prepare her for her future as a teacher.
“My sister was here studying pre-med and biology, so I went through high school visiting her,” Audry, an elementary education major with a minor in special education, says. “I always liked how welcome I felt when I was on campus and I chose Mount Marty because it has a wonderful, highly reputable education program.”
Audry says she was drawn to Mount Marty because the college truly believes in its core values of lifelong learning, community, hospitality, and awareness of God. Like most high school seniors, she considered costs when choosing college, but Audry says it wasn’t a hurdle.
“I did take the price of going to a private school into consideration,” she says. “However, Mount Marty provided me with an awesome scholarship package which made the cost very competitive with public schools.”
Value of a college education may be hard to comprehend as a high school senior looking forward to the next four years, but today, looking back as a Mount Marty junior, Audry says MMC has provided her something that can be harder to find at a public university — opportunities to grow through service to the community. She experienced that opportunity first-hand when she got involved in the Writing for Re-Entry Program.
Writing for Re-Entry is a class for prison inmates led by MMC Associate Professor of English Dr. Jim Reese. The program, which is in its first year, allows inmates at the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield, South Dakota to examine their past mistakes and plan their futures by penning their personal narratives. At the end of the course, the individual stories are published in a book entitled Off the Cuff.
As Audry worked with Dr. Reese to transcribe the inmate’s stories, she says it was an experience that changed her perspective on the world and how choices color experiences.
“This program changed how I view people who have spent time in jail,” Audry says. “Before this, I thought a lot of the guys in jail were violent criminals that didn’t have an ounce of empathy or sorrow for what they did.”
She says she learned not all prisoners fit that conception, that the old adage “don’t judge by its cover” is true.
“Some of the guys in there made one terrible mistake that ruined their lives,” says Audry. “By typing out what these guys have written, I have seen the other side of their stories, and now I can apply what I have learned to my future in the real world.”
Audry also had the opportunity to visit the prison and hear the inmates read their stories aloud.
“When I listened to the authors read what they had written, I was transfixed by how the words I typed came alive with meaning,” she says. “It meant a lot to see these guys be proud of their work and take ownership of something that is solely theirs in a place where they have to share everything.”
Audry believes this experience will prove useful when she is running a classroom of her own.
“According to the Office of the Press Secretary, almost one in three Americans of working age has a criminal record,” she says. “That means the chances of having a student with a parent or loved one in prison is rather large. I think, with my experiences in this program, I will be more understanding and supportive of their situations and a positive role model to my students.”
What advice does Audry have for students who are just starting to think about college?
“Make sure you find a school that truly believes in its mission,” she says. “Find a school where you don’t feel like just a number. Find a place where you can thrive and grow.”
Audry says she found all of these elements in Mount Marty College, but this year, through the Writing for Re-Entry Program, she discovered something more.
“I found a college that helped me step out of my ‘safe zone’ and that has given me another perspective on humanity,” she says.