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Thad Miller
Thad Miller

Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Planning
Fellow, Institue for Sustainable Solutions

Helping to understand and pursue sustainability

Ph.D. Sustainability, Arizona State University
M.P.A. Environmental Science and Policy, Columbia University
B.A. Economics and Environmental Studies, Bucknell University


  • Assistant Professor of Urban Civic Ecology
  • Community Watershed Stewardship Program Principal Investigator
    IGERT associated faculty
  • Faculty Fellow, Institute for Sustainable Solutions

Urban civic ecology, sustainability science, science and technology studies, environmental science and policy, social-ecological resilience, transdisciplinary research and education, defining sustainability for Portland

  • UNST 451 Capstone: Neighborhoods and Watersheds
  • USP 313: Urban Planning-Environmental Issues
  • USP 510: Socio-Technical Change in the City

Constructing Sustainability: A Study of Emerging Scientific Research Trajectories, 2011.

Personal Website
Community Watershed Stewardship Program

Phone: (503)725-4016
Office:  URBN 370Q

Professor Thad Miller is interested in how we organize our policies, technologies and institutions to advance visions of sustainability. He works with students, community partners, and interdisciplinary researchers to explore how different communities define sustainability, articulate their vision for the future, and implement policies and strategies to achieve that vision. His perspective is grounded in environmental social science, particularly science and technology studies (STS), science policy, environmental ethics and qualitative social science methods. Dr. Miller teaches courses on socio-technical change in the city, urban environmental issues and Capstone workshops focused on urban ecology and stewardship. As a fellow for the Institute for Sustainable Solutions and an Ecosystem Services in Urbanizing Regions IGERT associated faculty member, Dr. Miller works with students, staff and faculty across campus to foster sustainability education and research at PSU.

Dr. Miller acts as principal investigator for the Community Watershed Enhancement Program, a collaborative program with the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES). Dr. Miller works with BES to annually fund bottom-up community watershed stewardship projects from community gardens to citizen scientific monitoring.

A current research project of Dr. Miller’s involves working with the Portland Department of Transportation to evaluate the planning process and social and political issues that led to a community backlash against a proposed bike lane Portland’s North Williams neighborhood. Through content analysis, interviews and participant observation, Dr. Miller (in collaboration with Dr. Amy Lubitow, PSU Department of Sociology) is exploring the dynamics of the planning process, how increasing the diversity of the advisory committee could help the outcome, and how symbols of sustainability are still protested in a place like Portland.

Dr. Miller has authored several articles on subjects including sustainability science, biodiversity conservation, and epistemological pluralism in academic journals including Sustainability Science, the International Journal for Sustainability in Higher Education, Biological Conservation, and Ecology and Society. 

As a senior fellow in the National Science Foundation IGERT program, Dr. Miller received his doctorate from Arizona State University. He worked with urban ecologists, anthropologists, engineers, and other researchers across disciplines in the evolving field of sustainability science. There he gained a deep appreciation for interdisciplinary thinking, research, and collaboration. For his dissertation, Dr. Miller talked to scientists around the world about how they frame their research questions and how their findings influence decision-making processes. He is writing a book based on these findings. Dr. Miller wants to see knowledge linked with action, where the objectives of scientific research directly address problems on-the-ground and generate solutions that benefit society.

Prior to his doctoral studies, Dr. Miller worked with The Climate Trust of Oregon evaluating offset programs to ensure that purchased carbon credits led to projects that would not have been implemented otherwise. He originally came to Oregon to conduct stream surveys for the Forest Service where he grew enchanted with the Northwest woods. 

What Professor Miller has to say...

BEST PARTS OF JOB: PSU offers a rich combination of teaching, research and outreach. And PSU provides the time and space to put energy into all of them.

UNIQUENESS OF THE TOULAN SCHOOL: I appreciate how embedded the Toulan School is in the Portland community. There is so much opportunity to work with organizations in Portland or to get them to guest lecture, there is such willingness in the community to work with PSU.

TEACHING IN PORTLAND: Portland is a test bed for sustainability. It’s a neat opportunity to actually show sustainability in action out our classroom door.

APPROACH TO TEACHING: Enthusiastic, engaged with students and the community. I show videos, use different types of assignments, go beyond lectures, ask students to reflect on topics through blog posts, and in general, aim to appeal to different learning styles.

WHAT STUDENTS SHOULD TAKE AWAY: An enthusiasm and awareness for urban sustainability and urban environmental issues with new tools for thinking about environmental issues critically. I hope my students become more engaged in their community regardless of the career path they choose.

ON INTERACTING WITH STUDENTS: When you teach undergrads about sustainability, it refreshes my own enthusiasm. I like their curiosity and willingness to learn.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS: Graduate students should find faculty they want to work with. In general, there is so much more to PSU, college, and graduate life then just the classes that are offered. Take advantage of all of the opportunities that are provided (study abroad, partnerships, faculty, community issues/involvement).

FAVORITE URBAN PLACES: Any food market in any city whether a farmer’s market, fish market, or food cart hub--from Portland’s farmer’s markets to Barcelona’s La Boqueria.

INFLUENTIAL BOOK: Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold