The first thing people notice about George Miles is his effervescent smile. He exudes warmth. He is your friend immediately.
“This initial impression is for real. That’s George,” says Dr. Larry R. Thompson of the man who not only lights up a room, he lights up the Ringling College Board of Trustees, and his colleagues concur.
For four years Miles has brought that light and warmth to the Board and his greatest mission: provide more access to students struggling to afford a college education.
Janet Miles, George’s wife and Scholarship Committee co-chair, says the Committee is “gaining traction” because of George’s personality and leadership. “He gets down to business.”
George has been “getting down to business” his whole life: he held a variety of upper management positions in broadcasting, most recently as CEO and President of WQED Multimedia (QED Communications). He serves on numerous corporate and non-profit boards, including Harley-Davidson, and he is the former chair of the Urban League of Pittsburgh. A U.S. Army Veteran, with a tour in Vietnam, George was named one of the “Fifty Most Influential African Americans” in 2006 by The New Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s oldest, most prestigious African American newspapers.
“George’s background in the nonprofit world is invaluable not only to the Board of Trustees but also to me personally,” says Dr. Thompson. “He understands the challenges and pitfalls of leading and managing a non-profit organization successfully.”
Ringling College students are the greatest beneficiaries of that experience. A key success story: connecting Tyrell Waiters (Illustration, ’13) with one of George’s business associates, the Chairman and CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, after Tyrell began working there.
The Mileses have also hosted students at Thanksgiving, worked to bring Booker Middle School students to campus, and introduced friends and neighbors to Ringling College.
“Ringling is a jewel in the community,” Janet says. “I want more people to know what the students have to offer and how dedicated they are. George and I went to a Board luncheon for the Trustee Scholars. The students told their stories and we all were in tears. The students want to be here.”
“You want a return on your investment?” George asks. “If you invest in Ringling College, you can’t go wrong. Money is important, time even more so.”
George and Janet spend a lot of their time on the recruitment and retention of more African American students and assisting those students with as much scholarship money as they can muster.
“He is an incredible advocate for student financial aid,” explains Dr. Thompson. “George and Janet have been steadfast supporters of more scholarships for our students. What I love about him is that he does not just talk about the need, he really does something about it.”
Doing something about it for the Mileses means starting early. “These kids know from age six that they want to be artists and they have to find a way to get there,” George says. “Janet connected with Booker Middle School to get 25 kids to visit Ringling and get excited about what’s possible. We have to light the candle that’s inside them.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Miles are genuinely good people that honestly believe in each individual student’s success,” says Patricia Pete (Film,’15). “They talk to students and learn their stories one conversation at a time, and that really makes them stand out to me.”
George and Janet balance the focus on Ringling College with yoga, walking, theater, travel, and volunteer work with Booker Middle School and The LINKS, Inc.
The getting down to business never stops. Explains George, “We didn’t come down here to retire, we came here to live!”
By Nicole Caron
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