Hometown: Waterbury, Connecticut.
Major: Screenwriting (primary genre) and Public Relations (secondary genre)
Internships: Dark Embrace Films, a small independent digital film company, established by Lawrence King in 2007. The internship included working as a script consultant, coordinating production shoots, and developing media kits for film festivals.
Honors and Awards: Out of the Box was an official selection of the 2011 Urban Mediamakers Film Festival and awarded the Hollywood Scriptwriter 2010 Written Word Award. Finding Patience was awarded the 2010 Sir Hilary Edmond Hillary Award from the Mountain Film Awards.
Before coming into the program, Aaliyah Miller worked for Casey Family Services, the direct service agency of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, as a public relations specialist. She was looking for a program that would allow her to pursue her creative and professional interests. “Many low-residency MFA programs solely focus on creative writing. I work as a communications professional and wanted a program that would address strengthening communication and business writing skills. Western Connecticut State University's Professional Writing program offered me both.”
Many students that come into the program are attracted to the program because it allows them to keep a full-time job. Aaliyah was working full-time when she entered the program. One of the challenges for Aaliyah was finding a way to balance her school work with her professional life. “I was able to meet the challenge. I think the experience helped strengthen my organizational and research skills. The online learning environment helped me meet the challenges of balancing course work with my job responsibilities.”
For Aaliyah, finding a program that was academically stimulating, but also affordable, was a top priority. “The cost of higher education can deter prospective students. I think state universities like Western Connecticut State University help students reach their educational and professional goals by providing high-quality education at an affordable cost.”
In addition to finding the academic stimulation and affordability she craved, Aaliyah also appreciated the low-residency aspect of the MFA program. “At the residency I engaged in workshops, lectures, and readings that help inform and challenge the writer in me. I had an enriching experience that provided me a variety of opportunities to excel as a writer both creatively and professionally.”
The relationships that Aaliyah developed at the residency are of high value to her whether they included the students or the writing mentors she worked with. “My advisors were great. They helped me hone my voice and skill as a writer. I built relationships in the program that continue today.”
Today, Aaliyah still works as a public relations specialist for the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She describes the foundation as “a philanthropic organization that fosters public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families.” Getting an MFA from WCSU changed how Aaliyah approaches both her work and her writing. Finding her voice as a writer helped Aaliyah not just in her creative pursuits, but also in her professional ones. She describes her approach to writing as coming from “more of an analytical and editorial perspective.” She goes on to explain that storytelling is a feature of writing in general. “Storytelling is a part of public relations writing. Although we don't write novels, we have to be able to tell a story effectively.”
She is also pursuing a second master’s degree in the field of Communication and Leadership at Gonzaga University's School of Professional Studies. She has taught at the college level, including mentoring screenwriting students in the WCSU MFA Program. Her screenplays continue to win awards, including her most recent inclusion for Out of the Box as an official selection of the 2011 Urban Mediamakers Film Festival.