Education has the power to transform lives, but it's not always a linear journey. For Joseph Miller, Ph.D., the path to success was far from traditional.
Before he became a physicist and cancer researcher; before he was a hedge fund manager and investor; and before he founded multiple tech companies, Joseph was a high school graduate with zero interest in college.
As the first generation in his family to attend college, Joseph didn’t grow up expecting to pursue higher education. While his peers toured college campuses and applied to universities, Joseph spent time working and pursuing his own projects.
“I never enjoyed the academic side of high school,” recalled Joseph. “It’s funny to think about it now given how many years I’ve spent in college classrooms but back then college wasn’t part of my plan.”
Instead, after graduation, Joseph pursued his passion for entrepreneurship and music. As his classmates were starting their freshmen years at university, Joseph toured the country with his band, playing shows at night and working on his computer business during the day.
As the years passed, Joseph’s thirst for knowledge grew. While on tour, he spent his time reading books and developed a passion for mathematics, philosophy, and science. During this time, UC Berkeley announced an online program that allowed people to take non-credit courses that piqued Joseph’s interest.
So, five years after shirking the classroom for personal pursuits, Joseph found himself virtually back in class.
“I took physics and calculus and was surprised how much I enjoyed the experience,” said Joseph.
Shortly after completing those online courses, Joseph’s two best friends challenged him to keep going. They could see how much his desire to learn had grown and after their relentless pressure to attend college, Joseph did just that. The only problem was, he didn’t have a fully formed plan.
Joked Joseph, “I showed up at MiraCosta College on the morning of the first day of classes. I explained my newfound goal of transferring to Berkeley to study physics and economics and said I needed a plan to make that happen.”
At first, the counselor looked at Joseph like he was crazy. Eagerness was one thing, but the first class of the semester was set to begin in two hours and Joseph hadn’t filled out any paperwork or even started the enrollment process.
Joseph shared, “After a bit of shock and a little explanation, she recognized that I had big ambitions and helped me take the first steps. That’s one of the things I appreciated about MiraCosta College – I wanted to attend full-time but also, I had to work full-time. There was no judgement, no ego, everyone just wants to help you achieve your goals.”
As a full-time student at MiraCosta College, Joseph’s perception of higher education began to change. He found himself increasingly enjoying the higher-level curriculum and became a President’s Scholar throughout his time at MiraCosta College.
“Being an older student gave me a different perspective on education and its value,” shared Joseph. “At MiraCosta College, I knew why I was there and what I wanted to get out of it but was still provided the space to grow and change.”
Eventually, Joseph transferred to UC Berkeley and double majored in physics and economics, marking a significant milestone in his journey. In his first year at Berkeley, Joseph applied for a job at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It didn’t matter that the role required a Ph.D., Joseph's enthusiasm, and willingness to learn, even if it meant working for free, impressed the interviewers. After months of interviewing, Joseph was offered a paying job and started working on projects ranging from nuclear threat protection to cancer imaging. He even co-invented a new form of microscopy.
From here, Joseph flourished. He went on to pursue his doctorate at Cornell University where he was awarded the prestigious NSF graduate fellowship. Upon graduation, Joseph followed a new path at Bridgewater Associates and soon found himself leading a team that built artificial intelligence systems to improve fund management and decision making at the company.
He would later complete an MBA at Yale focusing on Asset Management, and found a number of his own venture-backed companies, ranging from SaaS company, Vivun, to a hedge fund, Battery CI, to his latest digital identity company, Quivr.
While his path was far from expected, Joseph’s story epitomizes the immense potential of community college graduates.
“I think it’s very important that people see that the traditional path from high school to college to the workforce is not the only option,” shared Joseph. “It’s possible to start at community college and make it to the Ivy League or reach the peaks of your industry.”
Joseph continued, “In many cases such as my own, without MiraCosta College, it would not have been possible.”