Melvin Miles Named CAC's November Student of the Month
By Guy Harrison, Media & Marketing Specialist
PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. - Melvin Miles is what one might call a go-getter. When he's not in class at Central Arizona College's Signal Peak Campus, he can usually be found singing in his church's choir, organizing an activity on campus or planning a fundraiser for his fellow TRiO Student Support Services peer mentors. As a peer mentor for the second year in a row, Miles has the opportunity to make an impact on new, incoming students in the TRiO program, many of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds or are first-generation college students.
"Melvin is an amazing mentor," says Sherrie Soria, CAC's TRiO coordinator. "His personality, his temperament, his knowledge and the wisdom that he brings are tremendous assets to the TRiO program and to CAC."
In combination with how active he is on campus, Miles's impact on TRiO and CAC has earned him the honor of the college's November Student of the Month award.
"It's overwhelming," Miles says. "Especially coming from where I came from. It's an honor that words can't really describe."
The meaning of that next to last sentence cannot be understated. Things didn't always come easy for the Coolidge resident. In fact, it's a surprise to many people that, in years past, Miles was not so highly revered by educators or himself.
"I didn't really do that well in high school because I didn't think I was smart."
In addition to underachieving in high school, Miles also battled addiction before deciding to get clean and do something with his life. Now, whenever he sees the people he used to spend time with, he's reminded of just how far he's come but how close his old friends are to turning the corner.
"It's painful," he says. "I know that it can be achieved but, at some point, they checked out. It gets to me and makes me want to achieve my goals even faster, especially when I see the youngsters who are now involved."
Among Miles's goals is to open a facility that he calls The Root, which would act as a fitness center as well as a 30-day inpatient drug rehabilitation center. The name of the facility originates from the way he overcame his personal demons.
"There is always a root reason why we start down that path. Once you get to the root, I believe that the light can come back on you and a person can check back in. Most of the time the root is ugly. People don't want to deal with that ugly part but once you start to look in the mirror and look at that root, there's no reason you can't be functional in society again."
And Miles is living proof. Wanting to further his education, he enrolled in classes at CAC. Skyla Teel, professor of reading and a TRiO faculty mentor at CAC, encouraged him to apply to be a peer mentor.
"Melvin is a natural born mentor and students appreciated and respected him almost instinctively," she says. "I know how important it is to have motivating and inspirational peers others can look up to. Melvin is both of those things and more."
Since then, Miles has had a profound impact on his mentees, acting like the father figure that some of them never had.
"I can see some of [my mentees] heading down some bad paths and they don't even know it. Sometimes I think that if you can say something or even make them aware of where they're headed ..."
One of the basic instructions Miles gives his mentees is to always pay attention in class. In his experience, attentive students inspire teachers to deliver their best effort, which can be a boon to students later in the semester.
"When they see that you're paying attention and you're involved in what they are saying, teachers like that. When it comes time for grades they'll reward you," he says with a laugh so hearty and distinct, that another member of CAC's faculty recognized it from around the corner.
Although peer mentors receive a stipend, Miles is not in it for the money. It's a theme that he hopes to continue as he has designs of continuing his education at Northern Arizona University and beyond.
"I want to go as far in education as I possibly can. I want to attain it all. I want to go as high as I can."
But he stresses that his primary goal is to open The Root.
"I'm not worried about getting rich. I know I'll be taken care of but I just want to be able to help some of my old friends and the youngsters. My heart really goes out to the youngsters. Some of them haven't even developed yet and they're already addicted to drugs. I think it's something that needs to be dealt with on a widespread basis."