Up until a few years ago, Allen Miller’s only experience with asphalt was driving and shooting hoops on it. He didn’t think about the process behind combining a semi-solid form of petroleum with aggregate particles through a highly controlled mixing process. He didn’t pay attention to the number of summer paving projects, which is the ideal time for hot-mix asphalt concrete laying. But today, it’s his life and he’s not only doing the work, but he’s teaching the next wave of the workforce to follow in his footsteps.
Miller graduated high school in 2004 and immediately went to Radford to pursue a degree in information technology. But shortly after starting the program, he realized he wasn’t on the right path.
“I had a lot of really close friends at Radford, which distracted me from my school work, but after my first semester of IT classes, I realized I didn’t want to sit at a desk for eight hours a day, 40 hours a week,” he said. “I left Radford to explore a little bit more, and find something that made me happier.”
Miller would explore for almost 15 years, working odd jobs in his hometown, then out in Northern California. He ultimately returned to Northern Virginia, and this time, he was looking for a way to get back to school.
He found his way to Chemung Contracting Corp., a construction company that works on major highway, bridge, airport and dam projects in this region. At the time, they were getting an asphalt apprenticeship program off the ground with Germanna Community College, and serendipitously, Miller found his way back to school.
“I had done a little construction before, but nothing to do with asphalt,” he said. “This was a completely brand new experience, so there was a steep learning curve in the beginning, but I learned pretty quickly.”
Through the asphalt apprenticeship program, Miller had the opportunity to take a wide-range of courses, everything from FastForward’s OSHA training courses and electrical training, to general education courses that he could apply towards an associate degree.
“For the last three and a half years, I’ve taken two classes a semester, working my day job from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., then heading to class 6 – 9 p.m.,” Miller said. “Working at an asphalt plant, there are lots of moving pieces. I was able to take a class on electrical motors, hydraulics and safety, in addition to the work I was doing specific to asphalt.”
Miller’s employer and some additional grant funding paid for his education. At the end of his journey, he’s earned multiple credentials and certifications, topped off with an associate degree in mechanical engineering. He has also stayed involved with Germanna’s asphalt apprenticeship program, where he’s doing proficiency testing and training for the latest asphalt academy class.
With his degree in hand, Miller plans to work his way up the ladder at his current company and ultimately, he hopes to earn his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. But for now, his priorities on his family, his wife and six-month-old daughter.