Historic faculty hiring: Meet Monica Miles


Published December 18, 2023

Monica Miles.

This fall, UB welcomed 154 new full-time faculty in what is believed to be the largest cohort of new faculty since the university joined SUNY in the 1960s. The historic initiative, “Advancing Top 25: Faculty Hiring,” is considered transformative and has already attracted some of the most promising and established researchers and scholars from across the country.

UBNow sat down with one of those new faculty members — Monica Miles, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences — to learn more about her research, why she chose UB and what it means to work here during this exciting time of growth.

Can you talk about your research?

My research has two strands. One is environmental justice. Our environment is where we live, play and work, so we need to understand how environmental issues interconnect with health and other disparities. The other is critical race theory. I look at how marginalized people across all life stages learn STEM and study how information is conveyed to them and how society impacts their learning environment.

I’m a Black woman who grew up in Buffalo. I want to help kids disrupt the narrative that the environment isn’t for them — and we can do that through information and transforming the environments around us.

I love doing this work in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. My work helps by understanding the perspectives of individuals and how systems are designed to construct those environments. Once we have that perspective, we can begin to address the issues — and engineers solve problems.

How does your research impact Buffalo?

I can give you a few examples. The Delevan Grider Community Center, a warming and cooling center for the city, wants to become a climate resilience hub. This would mean they provide more than safe temperatures — charging during power outages, welfare checks on vulnerable neighbors, educational preparedness, etc. To become an active shelter, they need to identify gaps and how to move forward. That’s where the students come in. This is a real-life engineering issue, and they’re helping the organization determine what they need.

We've also worked with Every Bottom Covered, Western New York’s first and only diaper bank. The organization has provided over a million clean diapers to low-income families in underserved communities. There’s an opportunity here for us to help design a distribution system to quickly and sustainably deliver diapers to families.

Another example is Feed Buffalo, the only Halal food pantry in Western New York. Their work focuses on Buffalo’s underserved communities, some who may not understand how to prepare for a blizzard. They’re in a small space, and their tables were breaking because the food on top was too heavy. This is an engineering issue: We can help them figure out how to package, store and distribute food to families.

These are all instances of engineering issues that the community may not know are engineering issues, where our students can partner with organizations to solve real problems.

What made you want to do this important work at UB?

I love Buffalo and I feel True Blue pride. I was born and raised in the city, I went to Buffalo Public Schools, my entire family lives here, I earned three degrees at UB and my daughter is a student in UB’s dance program. UB is a premier university in New York — and it’s right in my backyard.

My formal job duties are to teach classes, advise students, write grants and publish research. But I choose to serve as a UB ambassador and identify as a faculty member everywhere I go. When people see me in the community — at meetings, with elected officials, teaching Sunday school — they know me as Dr. Miles from UB. How I live my life is connected with the university, and this helps build trust and understanding of UB.

Working here also helps me help students connect to Buffalo. When they’re exposed to the city, it builds connections, fosters an appreciation for Buffalo and enhances their experiences.

What do you believe makes UB stand out in the academic community?

There’s no shortage of resources at our disposal to help us as researchers — you can find programs for anything. We also have so many opportunities to collaborate. Everywhere you look, groups are working in synergy to solve problems that matter.

Dean Kemper Lewis' supportiveness was also a crucial factor for me. He is a leader who’s committed to making change and steps up to that. As a Black woman, not only did he make sure that my offer was competitive, but he truly wanted to learn from my experiences.

It’s also important that UB values me as an entrepreneur. I own a business, Mother Earth Literacies, that provides support for nonprofit organizations struggling with funding, sustainability and executive leadership. UB saw this as an asset — they want me to thrive and know that a faculty member is making an impact.

How does it feel to be working at UB during this period of historic faculty hiring?

I never imagined such a historical hire. During orientation, I was shocked by the number of people of color and marginalized individuals in the room. I heard it was happening, but seeing it in person was my “this is real” moment.

I’m so excited about UB students’ potential. I already see it in the small group I’ve worked with, and I know they will change the world. They have been at the forefront of every social movement, and with this education, there’s no telling what they’ll be able to do in the future.

I’m very grateful to feel this way about my job and feel Buffalo’s strength in everything I’m doing. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.