As Pat Miller sifted through her old files and prepared them for archiving, the recently retired director of Iowa State University’s Lecture Program happened upon the first letter she sent to author Margaret Atwood, inviting her to speak at the school in 1987. Then she found the letter from 1988. Then 1989.

Atwood, who penned “The Handmaid’s Tale,” would eventually speak to a crowd of 700 in Iowa State’s Great Hall  in 2016, 29 years after Miller’s initial invitation. Miller’s persistence in seeking out that same speaker every year for almost three decades serves as a microcosm for a 37-year career with the lecture program defined by persistence. 

From political figures like Barack Obama, Cesar Chavez and Irish President Mary Robinson to artists and entertainers ranging from Margaret Cho to Maya Angelou, Miller played an enormous role in landing engagements that launched Iowa State into national prominence as a destination on the speaking circuit.

“Part of the success of the job was our persistence, our flexibility and finding how we could continue to evolve our pitch to entice these people to come,” said Miller. “It was about a commitment to bringing high-quality speakers to the students of ISU, and that often took creative and hard work.”

She remembers several instances where her pursuit of a student-requested speaker turned to creative means, like finding a back door to the direct contact of Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard through a surf club that had once honored him with an environmental award.

“Over the years, I would always have students fall into a chair in my office and say, ‘Pat, you have to get this person to come, I will die if you don’t get them to come,’ ” Miller said with a laugh. “Working with those students to craft invitations, find ways to contact them, and not just bring them to campus but in some cases be the one to introduce their idols, it’s life-changing for them, and was obviously very rewarding.”

Before her longtime role at Iowa State, Miller’s defining persistence saw her complete her psychology degree while raising her two daughters, and take action as an activist and organizer for various campaigns for electing more women to Congress, and on Equal Rights Amendment campaigns for reproductive rights. Yet, as pervasive and apparent as this persistence appears across her career, so too does a humility of her own retelling that deflects to those around her.

“People are fond of giving me a lot of credit,” said Miller. “But it takes an entire campus to bring all of this together.” 

Miller's Areas of Influence

Has led Iowa State University’s Lecture Program for 37 years, and brought the program to national prominence.

Works with students to bring their idolized figures to campus and engage them in the process along the way.

Works on campaigns for the Equal Rights Amendment and for bringing more women into politics.