Jacob Miller, 2020 graduate at Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center

'Bagel Santa Claus': A 2020 graduate looks back

Student organization that served homeless among student's favorite memories

Imagine Santa Claus carrying a big bag — not full of toys but bagels, hundreds of them. That’s sort of what Jacob Miller looked like when he volunteered at a student organization that collects unused food from eateries around campus and donates them to homeless shelters in Columbia.

“Every week I went to Einstein’s Bros. Bagels on campus and picked up the bagels they normally would have thrown out,” says Miller, who earned a bachelor’s in computer information systems in 2019 and a master’s in computer science this May after completing an accelerated graduate program. “Then I’d show up at the homeless shelters carrying that giant sack of bagels. I became great friends with a lot of the regulars.”

That’s just one of Miller’s cherished memories from his time at South Carolina. The Chapin High School graduate also liked working out at the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center every day of the week, a routine that involved lots of weightlifting and — on the “off” days — swimming laps. Fittingly, he conducted research as a computer science major on programming smart watches to sense physical activity in the gym, like counting repetitions of chest presses and dumbbell curls.

“Weightlifting is important to me because growing up I was really overweight, obese really, and always made fun of,” Miller says. “In middle school and high school, I started to turn that around because I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I lost over 70 pounds by learning a lot about nutrition, weightlifting and swimming and watching what I ate.

“I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to, some of my friends and some random conversations with people at the gym, about nutrition and weightlifting. I really like taking the time to teach people things like that if they want to learn it.”

Miller applied that same level of self-discipline to his studies, taking graduate-level courses his senior year, which paved the way for a master’s degree with just one more year of coursework. He still remembers freshman computer science, taught by J.J. Shepherd, a young instructor who also graduated from the College of Engineering and Computing.

“J.J. made it fun; he felt like a good friend rather than a professor,” Miller says. “He’s a great introduction to the discipline because, by the end of that first semester, he makes you think, ‘Yeah, I picked the right field.’ ”

And, in fact, Miller did. After working last summer for a tech company in Seattle and interviewing with several firms earlier this year, he accepted a position with Intuit in San Francisco. The job begins later this summer, and Miller is ready.