A Civil Engineer with a Passion for Civic Engagement

Aruna Miller applies her experience as an engineer and community advocate to run for U.S. Congress

Aruna Miller ● Civil Engineer ● Candidate for US House of Representatives

The first feminist civil engineer Aruna Miller ever knew was her father. As a mechanical engineer from India, he moved to America to further his studies, work and save money to bring his family to live with him. At age 7, Aruna reunited with her father and learned English at her local public school in Poughkeepsie, New York.

She worked her way through Missouri University of Science and Technology where she studied civil engineering. Though she struggled, she worked hard and drew inspiration from role models like her father, who always encouraged her.

“I remember saying, ‘Dad I don’t think I’m good enough to do this.’ He gave me a lecture saying he never wanted to hear me say that again.”

As a transportation engineer for Montgomery County, Maryland, Aruna ensured equity in transportation. She believes everyone should be able to access reliable transportation and her work provided essential elements of connecting communities like roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks.

While she considers all of her projects “her babies”, one stands out to her. Relying on her tact and ability to compromise to cut through some of the bureaucracy, she completed an anticipated five-year contract in just one year, building her community a much-needed sidewalk leading to a shelter.

“Sometimes it takes people to step out of the box and do what’s best for the community,” says Miller. “It (the sidewalk) is a small thing, but it improved quality of life for those in the region.”

Sparked by the outcome of the 2000 Bush vs. Gore presidential election, Aruna ran for representative in the Maryland House of Delegates and won a seat for the 15th District. She says that nearly 80% of legislation she introduces results from conversations she’s had with constituents, such as Amber’s Law, which notifies victims of domestic violence when their perpetrator is within a certain distance using GPS.

“Politics is a contact sport,” says Miller. “Contact your local officials about the issues that are important to you. When we get elected we are not here to lead, but here to serve.”

After serving in the state legislature for seven years, she is now running for the U.S. Congress as a representative for Maryland’s 6th District. As a public servant, Miller plans to listen to the needs of her constituents and compromise to create positive change. As she did at the state level, she will continue to use her engineering training to apply a pragmatic and analytical approach to solving problems. Most of Maryland’s representatives have a law background, but Miller hopes that more people with diverse backgrounds — professions, race, class, gender, and life experiences — will run for office.

Though engineering is often a male-dominated field, Aruna recommends that women assert themselves and take a seat at the table by speaking up and sharing their ideas rather than getting bogged down by taking on office tasks that are traditionally reserved for women, like picking up refreshments or taking notes for a meeting. She encourages women to compete for promotions and hold management accountable.

“Part of it is that people want to promote someone that looks like them, that they can relate to,” she says. “They see a woman of color and are not really sure if they can relate to her or trust her, but you need to make sure that you are making fair wages.”

Miller hopes that women will support each other by being mentors, and help each other gain exposure. Her life motto is “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” She sees this as a way to maximize growth, both personally and professionally. She and her husband instill this same confidence in their three daughters.

“You are a beautifully imperfect being,” says Miller. “Perfection is overrated.”

This story was written by Kristen Shipley, wogrammer Journalism Fellow. Learn more about our fellowship at wogrammer.org/fellowship.”